The Interplay among Laches, the Statute of Limitations, and the Copyright Act
Laches is a judicially-created equitable defense (grounded upon a plaintiff’s unreasonable, prejudicial delay in bringing a claim) for which the legislature has provided no fixed time limitation by which a plaintiff must commence a lawsuit. A statute of limitations is a time fixed by the legislature for filing suit, after which the claim is barred. Can these two defenses, laches and the statute of limitations, co-exist for claims brought under the Copyright Act? In Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.(Appeal No. 12-1315, May 19, 2014), the Supreme Court held that the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations, 17 U.S.C. § 507(b), controls regarding the timeliness of a claim for copyright damages. Laches still has a roll to play when the plaintiff seeks equitable remedies such as an injunction or a disgorgement of the defendant’s profits.