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 trial.
  • 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. Feltner appealed.
    • 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 admiralty.
      • 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.