throbber
(Slip Opinion)
`
`
`
` OCTOBER TERM, 2013
`
`
`Syllabus
`
`1
`
` NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is
`
`
`
` being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.
`
`
`
` The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been
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` prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
`
` See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.
`
`
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`
`
` Syllabus
`
` PETRELLA v. METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER, INC., ET AL.
`
`
`CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
`
`THE NINTH CIRCUIT
` No. 12–1315. Argued January 21, 2014—Decided May 19, 2014
`
` The Copyright Act (Act) protects copyrighted works published before
`
`1978 for an initial period of 28 years, renewable for a period of up to
`
`
` 67 years. 17 U. S. C. §304(a). The author’s heirs inherit the renewal
` rights. See §304(a)(1)(C)(ii)–(iv). When an author who has assigned
`
`her rights away “dies before the renewal period, . . . the assignee may
`
` continue to use the original work only if the author’s successor trans-
` fers the renewal rights to the assignee,” Stewart v. Abend, 495 U. S.
`
`
` 207, 221. The Act provides both equitable and legal remedies for in-
`fringement: an injunction “on such terms as [a court] may deem rea-
`sonable to prevent or restrain infringement of a copyright,” §502(a);
`and, at the copyright owner’s election, either (1) the “owner’s actual
`damages and any additional profits of the infringer,” §504(a)(1),
`which petitioner seeks in this case, or (2) specified statutory damag-
`es, §504(c). The Act’s statute of limitations provides: “No civil action
`shall be maintained under the [Act] unless it is commenced within
`three years after the claim accrued.” §507(b). A claim ordinarily ac-
`crues when an infringing act occurs. Under the separate-accrual rule
`that attends the copyright statute of limitations, when a defendant
`
`has committed successive violations, each infringing act starts a new
`limitations period. However, under §507(b), each infringement is ac-
`
`tionable only within three years of its occurrence.
`
`Here, the allegedly infringing work is the motion picture Raging
`
`Bull, based on the life of boxing champion Jake LaMotta, who, with
`Frank Petrella, told his story in, inter alia, a screenplay copyrighted
`
`
`in 1963. In 1976, the pair assigned their rights and renewal rights,
`which were later acquired by respondent United Artists Corporation,
`
`a subsidiary of respondent Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. (collectively,
`
`MGM). In 1980, MGM released, and registered a copyright in, the
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`
`

`
`2
`
`
`PETRELLA v. METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER, INC.
`
`
`Syllabus
`film Raging Bull, and it continues to market the film today. Frank
`Petrella died during the initial copyright term, so renewal rights re-
`
`verted to his heirs. Plaintiff below, petitioner here, Paula Petrella
`
`(Petrella), his daughter, renewed the 1963 copyright in 1991, becom-
`ing its sole owner. Seven years later, she advised MGM that its ex-
`
`ploitation of Raging Bull violated her copyright and threatened suit.
`
`Some nine years later, on January 6, 2009, she filed an infringement
`suit, seeking monetary and injunctive relief limited to acts of in-
`fringement occurring on or after January 6, 2006. Invoking the equi-
`table doctrine of laches, MGM moved for summary judgment. Pet-
`rella’s 18-year delay in filing suit, MGM argued, was unreasonable
`and prejudicial to MGM. The District Court granted MGM’s motion,
`holding that laches barred Petrella’s complaint. The Ninth Circuit
`affirmed.
`
`Held:
`
`1. Laches cannot be invoked as a bar to Petrella’s pursuit of a claim
`
`
`for damages brought within §507(b)’s three-year window. Pp. 11–19.
`
`
`
`(a) By permitting a successful plaintiff to gain retrospective relief
`
`
`only three years back from the time of suit, the copyright statute of
`limitations itself takes account of delay. Brought to bear here,
`§507(b) directs that Petrella cannot reach MGM’s returns on its in-
`vestment in Raging Bull in years before 2006. Moreover, if infringe-
`ment within the three-year window is shown, a defendant may offset
`against profits made in that period expenses incurred in generating
`
`those profits. See §504(b). In addition, a defendant may retain the
`return on investment shown to be attributable to its own enterprise,
`
`as distinct from the value created by the infringed work. See ibid.
`
`Both before and after the merger of law and equity in 1938, this
`Court has cautioned against invoking laches to bar legal relief. See,
`
`
`e.g., Holmberg v. Armbrecht, 327 U. S. 392, 395, 396. Pp. 11–14.
`
`
`
`(b) MGM’s principal arguments regarding the contemporary
`
`
`scope of the laches defense are unavailing. Pp. 14–19.
`
`
`
`(1) MGM urges that, because laches is listed in Federal Rule of
`Civil Procedure 8(c) as an affirmative defense discrete from a statute
`of limitations defense, the plea should be “available . . . in every civil
`action” to bar all forms of relief. Such an expansive role careens
`away from understandings, past and present, of the essentially gap-
`filling, not legislation-overriding, office of laches. This Court has
`
`
`never applied laches to bar in their entirety claims for discrete
`
`wrongs occurring within a federally prescribed limitations period.
`Inviting individual judges to set a time limit other than the one Con-
`gress prescribed would tug against the uniformity Congress sought to
`achieve in enacting §507(b). Pp. 14–15.
`
`
`
`(2) MGM contends that laches, like equitable tolling, should be
`
`
`
`
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`
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`
`
`

`
`3
`
`
`Cite as: 572 U. S. ____ (2014)
`
`
`Syllabus
`
`“read into every federal statute of limitation,” Holmberg, 327 U. S., at
`397. However, tolling lengthens the time for commencing a civil ac-
`tion where there is a statute of limitations and is, in effect, a rule of
`interpretation tied to that statutory limit. See, e.g., Young v. United
`
`States, 535 U. S. 43, 49–50. In contrast, laches, which originally
`served as a guide when no statute of limitations controlled, can
`
`scarcely be described as a rule for interpreting a statutory prescrip-
`tion. Pp. 15–16.
`
`
`
`(3) MGM insists that the laches defense must be available to
`prevent a copyright owner from sitting still, doing nothing, waiting to
`see what the outcome of an alleged infringer’s investment will be. It
`is hardly incumbent on copyright owners, however, to challenge each
`and every actionable infringement. And there is nothing untoward
`about waiting to see whether an infringer’s exploitation undercuts
`the value of the copyrighted work, has no effect on that work, or even
`
`complements it. Section 507(b)’s limitations period, coupled to the
`separate-accrual rule, allows a copyright owner to defer suit until she
`can estimate whether litigation is worth the candle. Pp. 16–17.
`
`
`
`
`(4) MGM is concerned that evidence needed or useful to defend
`
`against liability will be lost during a copyright owner’s inaction. But
`Congress must have been aware that the passage of time and the au-
`thor’s death could cause evidentiary issues when it provided for re-
`versionary renewal rights that an author’s heirs can exercise long af-
`
`ter a work was written and copyrighted. Moreover, because a
`copyright plaintiff bears the burden of proving infringement, any
`hindrance caused by evidence unavailability is as likely to affect
`plaintiffs as defendants. The need for extrinsic evidence is also re-
`duced by the registration mechanism, under which both the certifi-
`
`
`
`cate and the original work must be on file with the Copyright Office
`
`
`
`before a copyright owner can sue for infringement. Pp. 17–18.
`(5) Finally, when a copyright owner engages in intentionally
`misleading representations concerning his abstention from suit, and
`the alleged infringer detrimentally relies on such deception, the doc-
`
`
`trine of estoppel may bar the copyright owner’s claims completely,
`eliminating all potential remedies. The gravamen of estoppel, a de-
`fense long recognized as available in actions at law, is wrongdoing,
`overt misleading, and consequent loss. Estoppel does not undermine
`
`
`the statute of limitations, for it rests on misleading, whether engaged
`
`in early on, or later in time. P. 19.
`
`2. While laches cannot be invoked to preclude adjudication of a
`claim for damages brought within the Act’s three-year window, in ex-
`traordinary circumstances, laches may, at the very outset of the liti-
`gation, curtail the relief equitably awarded. For example, where
`
`owners of a copyrighted architectural design, although aware of an
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`4
`
`
`PETRELLA v. METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER, INC.
`
`Syllabus
`
`allegedly infringing housing project, delayed suit until the project
`was substantially constructed and partially occupied, an order man-
`dating destruction of the project would not be tolerable. See Chirco v.
`Crosswinds Communities, Inc., 474 F. 3d 227, 236. Nor, in the face of
`an unexplained delay in commencing suit, would it be equitable to
`order “total destruction” of a book already printed, packed, and
`shipped. See New Era Publications Int’l v. Henry Holt & Co., 873
`
`F. 2d 576, 584–585. No such extraordinary circumstance is present
`here. Petrella notified MGM of her copyright claims before MGM in-
`
`vested millions of dollars in creating a new edition of Raging Bull,
`and the equitable relief she seeks—e.g., disgorgement of unjust gains
`and an injunction against future infringement—would not result in
`
`anything like “total destruction” of the film. Allowing Petrella’s suit
`to go forward will put at risk only a fraction of the income MGM has
`earned during the more than three decades Raging Bull has been
`marketed and will work no unjust hardship on innocent third parties.
`Should Petrella ultimately prevail on the merits, the District Court,
`in determining appropriate injunctive relief and assessing profits,
`
`may take account of Petrella’s delay in commencing suit. In doing so,
`however, the court must closely examine MGM’s alleged reliance on
`
`Petrella’s delay, taking account of MGM’s early knowledge of her
`claims, the protection MGM might have achieved through a declara-
`tory judgment action, the extent to which MGM’s investment was
`protected by the separate-accrual rule, the court’s authority to order
`injunctive relief “on such terms as it may deem reasonable,” §502(a),
`and any other relevant considerations. Pp. 19–22.
`695 F. 3d 946, reversed and remanded.
`GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SCALIA,
`
`
`THOMAS, ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed a
`
`
`
`
` dissenting opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, J., joined.
`
`
`
`
`
`
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`
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`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`
`
` Cite as: 572 U. S. ____ (2014)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`
`1
`
`
` NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the
`
`
`
` preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to
`
` notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash-
`
` ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order
`
`
` that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
`
`
`
`
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`
`
`_________________
`
` No. 12–1315
`_________________
`PAULA PETRELLA, PETITIONER v. METRO-
`
`
` GOLDWYN-MAYER, INC., ET AL.
`
`ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
`
`
`APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
`
`[May 19, 2014]
`
` JUSTICE GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.
`
`The Copyright Act provides that “[n]o civil action shall
`be maintained under the [Act] unless it is commenced
`within three years after the claim accrued.” 17 U. S. C.
`§507(b). This case presents the question whether the
`equitable defense of laches (unreasonable, prejudicial
`delay in commencing suit) may bar relief on a copyright
`
`infringement claim brought within §507(b)’s three-year
`limitations period. Section 507(b), it is undisputed, bars
`relief of any kind for conduct occurring prior to the three-
`year limitations period. To the extent that an infringe-
`ment suit seeks relief solely for conduct occurring within
`the limitations period, however, courts are not at liberty to
`jettison Congress’ judgment on the timeliness of suit.
`Laches, we hold, cannot be invoked to preclude adjudica-
`tion of a claim for damages brought within the three-year
`window. As to equitable relief, in extraordinary circum-
`stances, laches may bar at the very threshold the particu-
`lar relief requested by the plaintiff. And a plaintiff ’s delay
`
`can always be brought to bear at the remedial stage, in
`determining appropriate injunctive relief, and in assessing
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`2
`
`
`PETRELLA v. METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER, INC.
`
`Opinion of the Court
`the “profits of the infringer . . . attributable to the in-
`
`fringement.” §504(b).1
`
`Petitioner Paula Petrella, in her suit for copyright in-
`fringement, sought no relief for conduct occurring outside
`§507(b)’s three-year limitations period. Nevertheless, the
`courts below held that laches barred her suit in its en-
`tirety, without regard to the currency of the conduct of
`which Petrella complains. That position, we hold, is con-
`trary to §507(b) and this Court’s precedent on the province
`
`of laches.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`I
`
`The Copyright Act (Act), 17 U. S. C. §101 et seq., grants
`copyright protection to original works of authorship.
`§102(a). Four aspects of copyright law bear explanation at
`the outset.
`
`First, the length of a copyright term. Under the Act, a
`copyright “vests initially in the author or authors of the
`work,” who may transfer ownership to a third party. §201.
`The Act confers on a copyright owner certain exclusive
`rights, including the rights to reproduce and distribute the
`work and to develop and market derivative works. §106.
`Copyrighted works published before 1978—as was the
`work at issue—are protected for an initial period of 28
`years, which may be—and in this case was—extended for
`a renewal period of up to 67 years. §304(a). From and
`after January 1, 1978, works are generally protected from
`the date of creation until 70 years after the author’s death.
`——————
`1As infringement remedies, the Copyright Act provides for injunc-
`tions, §502, impoundment and disposition of infringing articles, §503,
`damages and profits, §504, costs and attorney’s fees, §505. Like other
`restitutional remedies, recovery of profits “is not easily characterized as
`legal or equitable,” for it is an “amalgamation of rights and remedies
`drawn from both systems.” Restatement (Third) of Restitution and
`
`
`Unjust Enrichment §4, Comment b, p. 28 (2010). Given the “protean
`character” of the profits-recovery remedy, see id., Comment c, at 30, we
`regard as appropriate its treatment as “equitable” in this case.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`
`Cite as: 572 U. S. ____ (2014)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`
`3
`
`§302(a).
`
`
`Second, copyright inheritance. For works copyrighted
`under the pre-1978 regime in which an initial period of
`protection may be followed by a renewal period, Congress
`provided that the author’s heirs inherit the renewal rights.
`See §304(a)(1)(C)(ii)–(iv). We held in Stewart v. Abend,
`
`495 U. S. 207 (1990), that if an author who has assigned
`her rights away “dies before the renewal period, then the
`assignee may continue to use the original work [to produce
`
`a derivative work] only if the author’s successor transfers
`
`
`the renewal rights to the assignee.” Id., at 221.2
`Third, remedies. The Act provides a variety of civil
`
`remedies for infringement, both equitable and legal. See
`
`§§502–505, described supra, at 2, n. 1. A court may issue
`an injunction “on such terms as it may deem reasonable to
`
`prevent or restrain infringement of a copyright.” §502(a).
`At the election of the copyright owner, a court may also
`award either (1) “the copyright owner’s actual damages
`
`and any additional profits of the infringer,” §504(a)(1),
`which petitioner seeks in the instant case, or (2) statutory
`damages within a defined range, §504(c).
`
`Fourth, and most significant here, the statute of limita-
`tions. Until 1957, federal copyright law did not include a
`statute of limitations for civil suits. Federal courts there-
`fore used analogous state statutes of limitations to deter-
`mine the timeliness of infringement claims. See S. Rep.
`No. 1014, 85th Cong., 1st Sess., 2 (1957) (hereinafter
`
`Senate Report). And they sometimes invoked laches to
`abridge the state-law prescription. As explained in Team-
`sters & Employers Welfare Trust of Ill. v. Gorman Bros.
`
`Ready Mix, 283 F. 3d 877, 881 (CA7 2002): “When Con-
`gress fails to enact a statute of limitations, a [federal]
`——————
`2For post-1978 works, heirs still have an opportunity to recapture
`rights of the author. See 3 M. Nimmer & D. Nimmer, Copyright
`§11.01[A], p. 11–4 (2013) (hereinafter Nimmer).
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`4
`
`
`
`
`
`
`PETRELLA v. METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER, INC.
`
`Opinion of the Court
`court that borrows a state statute of limitations but per-
`mits it to be abridged by the doctrine of laches is not in-
`vading congressional prerogatives. It is merely filling a
`legislative hole.” (internal citation omitted). In 1957,
`
`Congress addressed the matter and filled the hole; it
`prescribed a three-year look-back limitations period for all
`civil claims arising under the Copyright Act. See Act of
`Sept. 7, 1957, Pub. L. 85–313, 71 Stat. 633, 17 U. S. C.
`§115(b) (1958 ed.). The provision, as already noted, reads:
`“No civil action shall be maintained under the provisions
`of this title unless it is commenced within three years
`after the claim accrued.” §507(b).3
`
`The federal limitations prescription governing copyright
`
`suits serves two purposes: (1) to render uniform and cer-
`tain the time within which copyright claims could be
`pursued; and (2) to prevent the forum shopping invited by
`disparate state limitations periods, which ranged from one
`to eight years. Senate Report 2; see H. R. Rep. No. 2419,
`84th Cong., 2d Sess., 2 (1956). To comprehend how the
`Copyright Act’s limitations period works, one must under-
`stand when a copyright infringement claim accrues.
`A claim ordinarily accrues “when [a] plaintiff has a
`
`complete and present cause of action.” Bay Area Laundry
`and Dry Cleaning Pension Trust Fund v. Ferbar Corp. of
`Cal., 522 U. S. 192, 201 (1997) (internal quotation marks
`omitted). In other words, the limitations period generally
`begins to run at the point when “the plaintiff can file suit
`and obtain relief.” Ibid. A copyright claim thus arises or
`“accrue[s]” when an infringing act occurs.4
`
`——————
` 3The Copyright Act was pervasively revised in 1976, but the three-
`
`year look-back statute of limitations has remained materially un-
`
` changed. See Act of Oct. 19, 1976, §101, 90 Stat. 2586.
`4Although we have not passed on the question, nine Courts of Ap-
`peals have adopted, as an alternative to the incident of injury rule, a
`“discovery rule,” which starts the limitations period when “the plaintiff
`discovers, or with due diligence should have discovered, the injury that
`
`
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`
`
`

`
`Cite as: 572 U. S. ____ (2014)
`
`
`Opinion of the Court
`It is widely recognized that the separate-accrual rule
`
`attends the copyright statute of limitations.5 Under that
`rule, when a defendant commits successive violations, the
`statute of limitations runs separately from each violation.
`
`Each time an infringing work is reproduced or distributed,
`the infringer commits a new wrong. Each wrong gives rise
`to a discrete “claim” that “accrue[s]” at the time the wrong
`occurs.6 In short, each infringing act starts a new limita-
`tions period. See Stone v. Williams, 970 F. 2d 1043, 1049
`(CA2 1992) (“Each act of infringement is a distinct harm
`giving rise to an independent claim for relief.”).
`Under the Act’s three-year provision, an infringement is
`
`actionable within three years, and only three years, of its
`occurrence. And the infringer is insulated from liability
`for earlier infringements of the same work.
` See 3 M.
`Nimmer & D. Nimmer, Copyright §12.05[B][1][b], p. 12–
`150.4 (2013) (“If infringement occurred within three years
`prior to filing, the action will not be barred even if prior
`——————
`forms the basis for the claim.” William A. Graham Co. v. Haughey, 568
`F. 3d 425, 433 (CA3 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). See also
`6 W. Patry, Copyright §20:19, p. 20–28 (2013) (hereinafter Patry) (“The
`overwhelming majority of courts use discovery accrual in copyright
`cases.”).
`
`5See generally id., §20:23, at 20–44; 3 Nimmer §12.05[B][1][b], at 12–
`
`150.2 to 12–150.4. See also, e.g., William A. Graham Co., 568 F. 3d, at
`
`433; Peter Letterese & Assoc., Inc. v. World Inst. of Scientology Enter-
`prises, Int’l, 533 F. 3d 1287, 1320, n. 39 (CA11 2008); Bridgeport Music,
`
`Inc. v. Rhyme Syndicate Music, 376 F. 3d 615, 621 (CA6 2004); Mak-
`
`
`edwde Publishing Co. v. Johnson, 37 F. 3d 180, 182 (CA5 1994); Roley
`v. New World Pictures, Ltd., 19 F. 3d 479, 481 (CA9 1994).
`
` 6Separately accruing harm should not be confused with harm from
` past violations that are continuing. Compare Klehr v. A. O. Smith
`
`
`Corp., 521 U. S. 179, 190 (1997) (for separately accruing harm, each
`new act must cause “harm [to the plaintiff] over and above the harm
`that the earlier acts caused”), with Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman,
`
`455 U. S. 363, 380–381 (1982) (“[W]here a plaintiff . . . challenges . . . an
`unlawful practice that continues into the limitations period, the com-
`plaint is timely when it is filed within [the limitations period, measured
`from] the last asserted occurrence of that practice.” (footnote omitted)).
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`5
`
`
`
`
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`
`
`

`
`6
`
`
`
`
`PETRELLA v. METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER, INC.
`
`Opinion of the Court
`infringements by the same party as to the same work are
`barred because they occurred more than three years pre-
`viously.”). Thus, when a defendant has engaged (or is
`alleged to have engaged) in a series of discrete infringing
`acts, the copyright holder’s suit ordinarily will be timely
`under §507(b) with respect to more recent acts of in-
`fringement (i.e., acts within the three-year window), but
`untimely with respect to prior acts of the same or similar
`kind.7
`
`In sum, Congress provided two controlling time pre-
`
`scriptions: the copyright term, which endures for decades,
`and may pass from one generation to another; and
`§507(b)’s limitations period, which allows plaintiffs during
`that lengthy term to gain retrospective relief running only
`——————
`7A case arising outside of the copyright context is illustrative. In Bay
`Area Laundry and Dry Cleaning Pension Trust Fund v. Ferbar Corp. of
`
`Cal., 522 U. S. 192 (1997), an employer was delinquent in making a
`
`series of scheduled payments to an underfunded pension plan. See id.,
`
`
`at 198–199. The trustees filed suit just over six years after the first
`missed payment, barely outside of the applicable six-year statute of
`limitations. See id., at 198. Because the first missed payment in the
`series fell outside the statute of limitations, the employer argued that
`the subsequent missed payments were also time barred. See id., at
`206. We rejected that argument. The remaining claims were timely,
`we held, because “each missed payment create[d] a separate cause of
`
`action with its own six-year limitations period.” Ibid. Cf. Klehr, 521
`U. S., at 190 (for civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations
`Act claims, plaintiff may recover for acts occurring within the limita-
`tions period, but may not use an “independent, new predicate act as a
`bootstrap to recover for injuries caused by other earlier predicate acts
`that took place outside the limitations period”); National Railroad
`
`Passenger Corporation v. Morgan, 536 U. S. 101, 114–121 (2002)
`(distinguishing discrete acts, each independently actionable, from
`conduct “cumulative [in] effect,” e.g., hostile environment claims pur-
`sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U. S. C. §2000e
`
`
`et seq.; “in direct contrast to discrete acts, a single [instance of hostility]
`may not be actionable on its own”). But cf. post, at 10–11 (ignoring the
`distinction Morgan took care to draw between discrete acts inde-
`pendently actionable and conduct cumulative in effect).
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
` Cite as: 572 U. S. ____ (2014)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`three years back from the date the complaint was filed.
`II
`
`
`A
`
`The allegedly infringing work in this case is the criti-
`
`cally acclaimed motion picture Raging Bull, based on the life
`of boxing champion Jake LaMotta. After retiring from the
`ring, LaMotta worked with his longtime friend, Frank
`Petrella, to tell the story of the boxer’s career. Their
`venture resulted in three copyrighted works: two screen-
`plays, one registered in 1963, the other in 1973, and a
`book, registered in 1970. This case centers on the screen-
`play registered in 1963. The registration identified Frank
`Petrella as sole author, but also stated that the screenplay
`was written “in collaboration with” LaMotta. App. 164.
`In 1976, Frank Petrella and LaMotta assigned their
`
`rights in the three works, including renewal rights, to
`
`Chartoff-Winkler Productions, Inc. Two years later, re-
`spondent United Artists Corporation, a subsidiary of respond-
`ent Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. (collectively, MGM), ac-
`quired the motion picture rights to the book and both
`screenplays, rights stated by the parties to be “exclusiv[e]
`and forever, including all periods of copyright and renew-
`als and extensions thereof.” Id., at 49. In 1980, MGM
`released, and registered a copyright in, the film Raging
`Bull, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De
`Niro, who won a Best Actor Academy Award for his por-
`trayal of LaMotta. MGM continues to market the film,
`and has converted it into formats unimagined in 1980,
`including DVD and Blu-ray.
`
`Frank Petrella died in 1981, during the initial terms of
`
`the copyrights in the screenplays and book. As this
`Court’s decision in Stewart confirmed, Frank Petrella’s
`renewal rights reverted to his heirs, who could renew the
`
`copyrights unburdened by any assignment previously
`made by the author. See 495 U. S., at 220–221 (relying on
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`7
`
`

`
`
`
`PETRELLA v. METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER, INC.
`
`Opinion of the Court
` Court’s earlier decision in Miller Music Corp. v. Charles N.
`Daniels, Inc., 362 U. S. 373 (1960)).
`Plaintiff below, petitioner here, Paula Petrella (Petrella)
`
`is Frank Petrella’s daughter. Learning of this Court’s
`decision in Stewart, Petrella engaged an attorney who, in
`1991, renewed the copyright in the 1963 screenplay.
`
`Because the copyrights in the 1973 screenplay and the
`
`1970 book were not timely renewed, the infringement
`claims in this case rest exclusively on the screenplay
`registered in 1963. Petrella is now sole owner of the copy-
`right in that work.8
`
`In 1998, seven years after filing for renewal of the copy-
`
`right in the 1963 screenplay, Petrella’s attorney informed
`MGM that Petrella had obtained the copyright to that
`screenplay. Exploitation of any derivative work, including
`Raging Bull, the attorney asserted, infringed on the copy-
`right now vested in Petrella. During the next two years,
`counsel for Petrella and MGM exchanged letters in which
`
`
`MGM denied the validity of the infringement claims, and
`Petrella repeatedly threatened to take legal action.
`B
`
`Some nine years later, on January 6, 2009, Petrella filed
`
`a copyright infringement suit in the United States District
`Court for the Central District of California. She alleged
`that MGM violated and continued to violate her copyright
`in the 1963 screenplay by using, producing, and distrib-
`uting Raging Bull, a work she described as derivative of
`the 1963 screenplay. Petrella’s complaint sought mone-
`tary and injunctive relief. Because the statute of limita-
`tions for copyright claims requires commencement of suit
`“within three years after the claim accrued,” §507(b),
`——————
`8Petrella’s attorney filed the renewal application on behalf of Frank
`Petrella’s heirs. When Petrella’s mother died and her brother assigned
`his rights to her, Petrella became the sole owner of all rights in the
`1963 screenplay.
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`8
`
`
`

`
`
`Cite as: 572 U. S. ____ (2014)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`Petrella sought relief only for acts of infringement occur-
`ring on or after January 6, 2006. No relief, she recognizes,
`can be awarded for infringing acts prior to that date.
`MGM moved for summary judgment on several grounds,
`
`among them, the equitable doctrine of laches. Petrella’s
`18-year delay, from the 1991 renewal of the copyright on
`which she relied, until 2009, when she commenced suit,
`MGM maintained, was unreasonable and prejudicial to
`MGM. See Memorandum of Points and Authorities in
`Support of Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment in
`No. CV 09–0072 (CD Cal.).
`The District Court granted MGM’s motion. See App. to
`
`Pet. for Cert. 28a–48a. As to the merits of the infringe-
`ment claims, the court found, disputed issues of material
`fact precluded summary adjudication. See id., at 34a–42a.
`Even so, the court held, laches barred Petrella’s complaint.
`Id., at 42a–48a. Petrella had unreasonably delayed suit
`by not filing until 2009, the court concluded, and further
`determined that MGM was prejudiced by the delay. Id., at
`42a–46a. In particular, the court stated, MGM had shown
`“expectations-based prejudice,” because the company had
`“made significant investments in exploiting the film”; in
`addition, the court accepted that MGM would encounter
`“evidentiary prejudice,” because Frank Petrella had died
`and LaMotta, then aged 88, appeared to have sustained a
`loss of memory. Id., at 44a–46a.9
`
`The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit af-
`
`firmed the laches-based dismissal. 695 F. 3d 946 (2012).
`
`Under Ninth Circuit precedent, the Court of Appeals first
`observed, “[i]f any part of the alleged wrongful conduct
`occurred outside of the limitations period, courts presume
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`——————
`9LaMotta, the court noted, “ha[d] suffered myriad blows to his head
`
`as a fighter years ago,” and “no longer recognize[d Petrella], even
`
` though he ha[d] known her for forty years.” App. to Pet. for Cert.
`
` 45a–46a.
`
`9
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`10
`
`
`PETRELLA v. METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER, INC.
`
`Opinion of the Court
`that the plaintiff ’s claims are barred by laches.” Id., at
`951 (internal quotation marks omitted). The presumption
`was applicable here, the court indicated, because “[t]he
`statute of limitations for copyright claims in civil cases is
`three years,” ibid. (citing §507(b)), and Petrella was aware
`of her potential claims many years earlier (as was MGM),
`id., at 952. “[T]he true cause of Petrella’s delay,” the court
`
`suggested, “was, as [Petrella] admits, that ‘the film hadn’t
`made money’ [in years she deferred suit].” Id., at 953.10
`
`Agreeing with the District Court, the Ninth Circuit de-
`termined that MGM had established expectations-based
`prejudice: the company had made a large investment in
`
`Raging Bull, believing it had complete ownership and
`control of the film. Id., at 953–954.11
`
`Judge Fletcher concurred only because Circuit prece-
`
`dent obliged him to do so. Id., at 958. Laches in copyright
`
`cases, he observed, is “entirely a judicial creation,” one
`notably “in tension with Congress’ [provision of a three-
`year limitations period].” Ibid.
`
`We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict among the
`
`Circuits on the application of the equitable defense of
`laches to copyright infringement claims brought within
`the three-year look-back period prescribed by Congress.12
`——————
` 10In her declaration, Petrella stated that MGM told her in 2001 that
`
`the film was in “a huge deficit financially,” “would never show a profit,”
`and, for that reason, “MGM would not continue to send [financial]
`statements [to her].” App. 234.
`11The Court of Appeals did not consider whether MGM had also
`shown evidentiary prejudice. 695 F. 3d 946, 953 (CA9 2012).
`12See Lyons Partnership L. P. v. Morris Costumes, Inc., 243 F. 3d 789,
`798 (CA4 2001) (laches defense unavailable in copyright infringement
`
`
` cases, regardless of remedy sought); Peter Letterese, 533 F. 3d, at 1320
` (“[T]here is a strong presumption [in copyright cases] that a plaintiff’s
`
`
` suit is timely if it is filed before the statute of

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