A blog about patent, copyright and trademark law in the U.S. District Court
for the Southern District of New York

Second Circuit Reverses Judge Forrest's Dismissal of Copyright Infringement Action Over Ghost Rider Comic Book Character

In a June 11, 2013 decision, the Second Circuit reversed Judge Katherine B. Forrest’s decision dismissing the plaintiff’s copyright infringement action over the comic book character Ghost Rider. Judge Forrest had held as a matter of law that the plaintiff had assigned any rights he retained in the renewal term of the Ghost Rider copyrights to the predecessor of a defendant. The Second Circuit disagreed, finding the relevant contract language to be ambiguous, thus precluding judgment as a matter of law. On appeal, the defendant argued that the Second Circuit could affirm Judge Forrest’s decision on the ground of the assignment of the renewal rights, but also argued that the plaintiff’s claim was barred by the three year copyright statute of limitations. As to the assignment of renewal rights, the Second Circuit applied “the ‘strong presumption against the conveyance of renewal rights,’” and concluded that “the district court erred in holding as a matter of law that” the plaintiff “had assigned his renewal rights . . . by signing the” agreement at issue. Regarding the statute of limitations defense, the Second Circuit held that an ownership claim accrues when there has been an “express repudiation” of ownership, and found that there are material issues of disputed fact as to when the defendant repudiated the plaintiff’s ownership claim, thus precluding summary judgment. The Second Circuit remanded the case for trial.
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