12.22.2006

S.D. Fla. Notes Split Re Whether Laches Is a Viable Defense Where the Copyright Holder Files His Case within the Statutory Period

Per Oravec v. Sunny Isles Luxury Ventures L.C., --- F.Supp.2d ----, 2006 WL 3734155 (S.D. Fla. 2006):

Defendants next argue that Oravec's claims are barred by the doctrine of laches. Laches is an equitable doctrine that prevents unfairness to a defendant owing to plaintiff's unreasonable delay in filing suit. See Venus Lines Agency v. CVG America, Inc., 234 F.3d 1225, 1230 (11th Cir.2000). To establish a laches defense, Defendants must show that (1) Oravec delayed in asserting his claims, (2) his delay was not excusable, and (3) Defendants were unduly prejudiced by the delay. Id. Here, Defendants argue that Oravec's twenty month delay between the time he discovered the alleged infringement and the time he filed suit meets the standard for barring his claims under laches. By the time Oravec filed suit, construction of the Trump Palace was all but completed Defendants assert that Oravec has no excuse for his delay and that had they known about Oravec's allegations they "could have considered alternative options as to the project and perhaps obviate[d] the claim." Dev. Def. Br. at 36..*24 The statute of limitations on a copyright claim is three years. 17 U.S.C. ยง 407(b). Oravec filed his lawsuit within two years.

There is a split among the circuits about whether laches is a viable defense where the copyright holder files his case within the statutory period. Compare Danjaq LLC v. Sony Corporation, 263 F.3d 942, 954 (9th Cir.2001) ("If a defendant can show harm from the delay, the court may, in extraordinary circumstances, defeat the claim based on laches, though the claim is within the analogous limitations period") (citation omitted) with Lyons Partnership v. Morris Costumes, Inc., 243 F.3d 789, 797 (4th Cir.2001) ("in connection with copyright claims, separation of powers principles dictate that an equitable timeliness rule adopted by courts cannot bar claims that are brought within the legislatively prescribed statute of limitations"). The Eleventh Circuit has yet to address the subject. That question need not be answered here, however, because Defendants have not shown inexcusable delay nor undue prejudice.

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