District Court Invalids Part of Copyright Law

Aron Schatz
April 21, 2008

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This is a step in the right direction. States cannot be sued for copyright infringement. The law that allowed this was deemed unconstitutional. What does this mean?


In short, the Court invalidated the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act as unconstitutional, thus ruling that a State, employee of a State (acting within his or her official capacity) or instrumentality of a State cannot be held liable for copyright infringement.

Minow: Do all state employees have immunity for copyright infringement?

Pink: No. The Court's ruling only applies to state employees acting within their "official capcity." This gets a little tricky because a state official who has acted in violation of federal law will be stripped of his or her "official" character and will not be immune to suit under the 11th Amendment. Thus, for example, in the Marketing case, plaintiff may not seek damages against the professor in his official capacity as that it would violate the state’s sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment, but the professor likely would be "stripped of his official or representative character" and would be "subjected in his person to the consequences of his individual conduct" if plaintiff can show that the professor violated plaintiff’s federally protected copyright. In other words, a state employee will be subjected to suit in his or her individual capacity even though he or she had been acting as an agent of the State if it is shown that the employee's conduct was ultra vires his or her delegated authority, e.g. by violating a federal law.

In really short, it is a small victory and leads us in the right direction for sane IP law.


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