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How Long Should You Wait to Sue for Copyright Infringement?

Suppose that you’ve created something copyrightable. You’ve gone through the process of registration with the Copyright Office and followed the renewal procedures (if they were necessary). You learn that someone is infringing your copyright. You seek the advice of your lawyer, who sends a cease and desist letter to the infringer. How long can you wait before you have to sue? The answer, it turns out, is a complicated one.

The issue is currently under consideration by the Supreme Court. In January, the Court heard oral arguments from parties in the case of Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. A decision is expected by June 2014. Ms. Paula Petrella is the owner of the copyright of a screenplay that served as a basis for the classic Martin Scorsese 1980 film Raging Bull. Ms. Petrella’s father, Frank Petrella, had written the screenplay with his friend, boxer Jake LaMotta (the eponymous Bull). Raging Bull is widely considered one of the greatest films of all time, and resulted in an Academy Award for Robert DeNiro for Best Actor.

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