MILWAUKEE (CN) – A freelance artist who helped create several Harley-Davidson logos between 1970 and 2000 can continue with his copyright infringement case against the motorcycle giant, a federal judge ruled.
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In doing so, U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman denied Harley’s motion for dismissal and ruled that the statute of limitations does not apply to the case.
Wayne Wm. Peterson claims that his “Live to Ride” logo, created in 1985, and the “Harley-Davidson University” logo, created in 1991, were part of a “one time one run” agreement that prevented Harley-Davidson from using the images at any time following the limited initial production.
Peterson says that “Harley has, without authorization, continued to use these works on hundreds, if not thousands, of runs of products, packaging material and marketing material since they were created,” and seeks damages for copyright infringement.
Harley-Davidson moved to dismiss the suit, claiming that “the lawsuit is bound by the doctrine of laches … [and] that all claims based on alleged acts of infringement that occurred before April 25, 2009, are barred by the three-year statute of limitations under the Copyright Act.”
However, Adelman wrote that “although the facts alleged indicate that Peterson waited a long time to file this suit, that does not mean that his delay was unreasonable as a matter of law. What is reasonable depends on the totality of the circumstances, and since Peterson had no duty to anticipate a laches defense and pleads facts showing that his delay was reasonable, I do not know what the totality of the circumstances will show. Thus, based on the complaint alone, I cannot determine whether Peterson’s delay was unreasonable.”
As for the statute of limitations, Peterson “contends that under the ‘continuing wrong’ or ‘continuing violation’ doctrine, he is entitled to recover damages for the entire course of conduct and is not limited to damages for acts that occurred within the last three years.”
Adelman writes that “Peterson’s claim accrued as soon as he learned, or should as a reasonable person have learned, that Harley had violated his copyrights. Peterson did not need to wait to sue until a series of wrongful acts blossomed into a legally cognizable injury; he could have sued as soon as he discovered that Harley was making unauthorized copies of his works and sought damages for past violations and an injunction prohibiting future violations.” However, Judge Adelman also cites Taylor v. Meirick, a case in which the Seventh Circuit “stated that the statute of limitations does not begin to run on a copyright claim involving a continuing series of copyright infringements until the entire series is over and done with … Thus, if Taylor‘s description of the continuing-violation doctrine remains accurate, Peterson would be able to take advantage of it here, since according to the complaint Harley has been continually violating Peterson’s copyrights since the mid 1980’s.”