Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Statute of limitations for claims under the Copyright Act

What is the limitations period for claims under the Copyright Act?

Copyright Act claims have a three year limitations period, beginning when an infringing act accrues. However, when a defendant has committed successive violations, the separate-accrual rule accompanying the Copyright Act states that each infringing act starts a new limitation period. Each infringement, however, is actionable only within three years of its occurrence. See Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 1962 (2014).

Limitations periods for trademark infringement

I own a business in Texas, and two years ago I discovered that someone else was using my trademark. Is it too late for me to take legal action in Texas?

Probably not. The Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. §§1125 et seq.) creates a civil claim for trademark infringement. Since the Lanham Act does not contain a specific statute of limitations period, the courts look to state law to determine the appropriate statute of limitations. Federal courts have typically dealt with this issue by applying the state’s limitations period for fraud claims to claims under the Lanham Act. Texas is no different. In Texas, the four year statute of limitations for fraud claims (Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §16.004) is applied to claims under the Lanham Act. See Tinker, Inc. v. Poteet, 2017 WL 4351304 at *6 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 30, 2017).  This four year period begins when a plaintiff discovers the fraud or could have discovered the fraud by the exercise of reasonable diligence. See Tinker, Inc. v. Poteet, 2017 WL 4351304 at *6 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 30, 2017) citing S.V. v. R.V., 933 S.W.2d 1, 35 (Tex. 1996). Since you discovered this infringement only two years ago, the statute of limitations for your claims under the Lanham Act may not yet have expired.  You may also have claims under the common law. The statute of limitations will depend on the type of claim you have. For trademark-infringement claims, the statute of limitations is four years while the statute of limitations for unfair-competition claims based on trademark infringement is two years. See  Springboards to Education, Inc. v. Scholastic Book Fairs, Inc., 2018 WL 1806500 at *7 (N.D. Tex. April 17,2018) citing Derrick Mfg. Corp. v. Sw. Wire Cloth, Inc., 934 F. Supp. 796, 804-06 (S.D. Tex. 1996) (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.003-.004). Unlike claims under the Lanham Act, in which the statute of limitations period begins when a plaintiff discovers or should have discovered the fraud, the statute of limitations period for common-law trademark claims does not accrue until the allegedly wrongful conduct ends. This is because Texas law treats common law trademark-infringement as a continuing tort. See  Springboards to Education, Inc. v. Scholastic Book Fairs, Inc., 2018 WL 1806500 at *7 (N.D. Tex. April 17,2018) citing Horseshoe Bay Resort Sales Co. v. Lake Lyndon B. Johnson Imp. Corp., 53 S.W.3d 799, 812 (Tex. App. – Austin 2001, pet. denied). However, the affirmative defense of laches may still apply.

Access to opponent's computers

If I were involved in a lawsuit in Texas, could I get access to my opponent’s computer’s hard drive?

Maybe. As a threshold to granting access to electronic devices, you (the requesting party) would have to show that the responding party somehow defaulted on its obligation to search its records and produce the data you requested. See In re Shipman, 540 S.W.3d 562, 568-69 (Tex. 2018) citing In re Weekley Homes, L.P., 295 S.W.3d 309, 317 (Tex.2009)(orig. proceeding). Courts do not rely on skepticism or bare allegation that a responding party failed to comply with its discovery duties to grant access to electronic devices, but rather evidence is needed. See In re Shipman, 540 S.W.3d at  568-69.

Contract Interpretation

I have a dispute about the meaning of a written agreement. How might a court in Texas go about resolving such a dispute?

Normally, a court will confine its interpretation to the agreement’s text, but a court’s willingness to consider outside evidence will depend on the facts of each case. Typically, the willingness of a court to consider evidence beyond what is stated directly in an agreement depends on the clarity of the agreement’s wording. If the language of an agreement is written in a way that allows for multiple reasonable interpretations of the text, then the agreement is considered ambiguous and thus, outside (i.e.,extrinsic) evidence may be considered in order to determine the meaning of the agreement’s language. However, if the agreement is worded in a way that gives its contents a direct or certain legal meaning, then it is not considered ambiguous and outside evidence cannot be used to inform the court’s interpretation of the agreement. This decision, concerning the ambiguity of an agreement, is made by the court. Nevertheless, there are limitations to the extent to which extrinsic evidence may be considered when reviewing an agreement, even if it is ruled ambiguous. As previously mentioned, outside evidence that is objective in nature may be admitted if an agreement is deemed to be ambiguous, however, it may only be admitted to determine the parties’ intent as expressed in the agreement, and cannot be relied upon to give the agreement a meaning different from the language it imports or to show what the parties probably meant, or could have meant, something other than what their agreement stated. See URI, Inc. v. Kleberg County, 543 S.W.3d 755 (2018) citing Anglo-Dutch Petrol. Int’l, Inc. v. Greenberg Peden, P.C., 352 S.W.3d 455,451 (Tex. 2011). The “facts and circumstances” in existence at the time an agreement is executed “may be consulted only to inform the meaning of the language the parties chose to effectuate their accord,” and when interpreting an unambiguous agreement or determining whether an ambiguity exists, courts may not consider the parties’ intent beyond the meaning the agreement’s language reasonably suggests when interpreted in context. See URI, Inc. v. Kleberg County, 543 S.W.3d 755, 763 (2018).