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Warner Music Loses Ruling In Supreme Court Copyright Case

Updated: May 19

As reported by CNBC, in a recent legal battle between a Miami-based music producer and Warner Music, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the former in a 6-3 decision. The case revolved around a dispute over the time limit for monetary damages claims in copyright cases.

The plaintiff, Sherman Nealy, sued Warner subsidiary and others in 2018 over the rights to the electronic dance song "Jam the Box" by Tony Butler, also known as Pretty Tony.

Credit: Rapper Flo Rida. Chris Trotman/Getty

Nealy claimed that his label, Music Specialist, owned the rights to the song which music artist Flo Rida, also known as Tramar Dillard, incorporated into his 2008 hit "In the Ayer."

Nealy argued that Warner Chappell and others took an invalid license to "Jam the Box" from Butler, who was his former business partner, while he was imprisoned for cocaine distribution. The producer requested damages for alleged copyright infringement dating back to 2008.

While a federal judge ruled that Nealy could recover damages for infringement that happened only during the three years before he filed the lawsuit, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision and said there was "no bar to damages in a timely action." The Supreme Court upheld this ruling on May 9th.

According to Justice Elena Kagan, who authored the majority opinion, "The Copyright Act entitles a copyright owner to recover damages for any timely claim." This refers to the 1976 federal law at the center of the case.

However, during the Supreme Court arguments in February, some of the justices expressed concern over deciding the case before reconsidering the issue of statute of limitations in a separate dispute before them. The justices are currently deliberating whether to take up the "discovery rule" in a copyright dispute between Hearst Newspapers and photographer Antonio Martinelli.

Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas joined Justice Neil Gorsuch in a dissenting opinion on Thursday, echoing the same concern.

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