Columbia Pictures Television v. Krypton Broadcasting of Birmingham, Inc.
106 F.3d 284 (9th Cir. 1997)
Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television, Inc.
523 U.S. 340 (1998)
Feltner owned three tv
stations. He had a contract with Columbia to show reruns of some of their
shows. However, he ran out of money and stopped paying. Columbia revoked
their license agreement.
Feltner kept running the shows
without a license. Columbia sued for copyright infringement.
Columbia asked the Court for
statutory damages, under 17 U.S.C. §504(c).
Feltner asked for a jury
The Trial Court denied
Feltner's request for a jury trial. He appealed.
The Trial Court found that
since all Columbia wanted was statutory damages, there was no requirement
for a jury trial.
The Court awarded Columbia
damages of $8.8M.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court found
that the 7th Amendment does not
provide a right to a jury trial on the issue of statutory damages
"because an award of such damages is equitable in nature."
The Court found that §504(c)(1) provides statutory damages "for all
infringements involved in the action, with respect to any one work, for
which any one infringer is liable individually, or for which any two or
more infringers are liable jointly and severally."
The Court interpreted that
to mean that when Feltner broadcast the same show on two of his tv
stations, that counted as two separate infringements, even though he
owned both stations.
The Court interpreted §504(c)(1) to provide statutory damages for every
episode broadcast, not for the tv series as a whole.
Feltner argued that each
episode had no commercial value by itself, and that the entire series
should be thought of as a single compilation. However the Court found
that each episode counted as an independent work, so Feltner had to pay
damages for each individual episode he ran.
The US Supreme Court reversed
and remanded for a jury trial.
The US Supreme Court noted
that nothing in §504 explicitly
grants a right to a jury trial.
However, the Court looked at
history and found that the 7th Amendment applies not only to common law causes of action, but also to
actions brought to enforce statutory rights that are analogous to common
law causes of action ordinarily decided in English law courts of the 18th
Century as opposed to those customarily heard by courts of equity or
The first English copyright
law, the Statute of Anne was
tried in courts of law.
The Court found that the
general rule is that monetary relief is legal and an award of statutory
damages may serve purposes traditionally associated with legal relief.
The Court found that the 7th
Amendment requires that cases
traditionally heard in law courts or asking for legal relief (as opposed
to courts of equity and equitable relief) must have a jury.
The Court affirmed the
Appellate Court's interpretation of how damages should be calculated.