Statute of Limitations for Intellectual Property Cases when more material used recently discovered in the same educational class

Asked over 2 years ago - Austin, TX

I taught an online course at an institute in 2005. Without my permission they gave access to my class to another instructor who used all my material word to word including my life experiences as his, all through 2006. The school had full knowledge this was happening. The educational licensing board in AZ unamimously found the school in violation of facilitating and condoning plagiarism on two counts. In January 2007 I was informed and sent documentation that only the first half of the course was plagiarized throughout 2006.
However, I just discovered that the second half of the course was also plagiarized, i.e.,another four weeks. This is new discovery for me. Can I sue the school for copyright infringement for this new discovery for new material discovered?
Thank you for your help.

Attorney answers (3)

  1. Molly Cristin Hansen

    Contributor Level 15

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    Answered . As my colleague has indicated, you need to consult with an attorney who specializes in litigating copyright infringement matters ASAP. There are a number of details that will need to be discussed in private (v. here on Avvo) and, as it seems you are aware, you are going to be up against a number of hurdles.

    Most notably, pursuant to ยง 507 of the Copyright Act: "No civil action shall be maintained under the provisions of this title unless it is commenced within three years after the claim accrued." So, a big question will be when the claim accrued. While you have indicated that you just became aware of your materials being used in the second half of the course, a court will need to be convinced that you did not know OR HAVE REASON TO KNOW about that infringement until recently.

    You will not be able to sue anyone for copyright infringement unless/until you have registered your materials with the U.S. Copyright Office. And, on a related note, do you own and control all rights in your materials even though they were created for a course at the institute? If you have a contract with the institute, what did that contract say, if anything, about the school's right to use your teaching materials in classes taught by others?

    Last, but not least, if the school is a non-profit institution, you will need to PROVE that, pursuant to the relevant provisions of the Copyright Act, the school rather than the infringing instructor can be held accountable for the instructor's use of your materials.

    Good luck to you.

    Any answer or other information posted above is general in nature and is not intended, nor should it be construed,... more
  2. Clifford D. Hyra

    Contributor Level 12

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    Answered . Consult with a copyright infringement attorney to go over the specific facts of your case, but based on the information provided you should still be able to sue. The statute of limitations does not begin until you find out about the infringement.

  3. John E. Whitaker

    Contributor Level 16

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    Answered . The first question is whether you just found out that the second half of your course was copied back in 2006? Or was the second half of your course just copied?

    The statute of limitations for copyright cases is generally three years, meaning that you can probably only sue for damages for infringement that occurred within the last three years. As to whether the three years starts to run from when you learned of the infringement or should have learned of it, that question is up in the air, and is interpreted a little differently in different districts.

    You should sit down with an actual copyright attorney and talk through these issues. The threshold question will be whether you *should have known* about the infringement that occurred back then.

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