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No Jury in Copyright Suit Over Online Database

(CN) - Trial by jury is not suitable for a copyright dispute between standard-setting nonprofits and a website that publishes their work, a federal judge ruled.

The ruling comes in a lawsuit that several nonprofit developers of private-sector standards for educational and psychological testing brought in Washington, D.C., against Inc.

Claiming that the revenue-generating standards are original, protected works, the American Psychological Association and others said they should not appear on the website of Public Resource, a nonprofit that says it aims to "improve public access to government records and the law."

Public Resource admits it "acquires copies of ... records, including legal decisions, tax filings, statutes, and regulations, and publishes them online in easily accessible formats that make them more useful to readers, entirely free of charge."

The web publisher argues that it is entitled to publish the records as public materials because they have been incorporated by reference into federal and state laws.

Though APA and the other plaintiffs are calling for an injunction but not money damages, Public Resource included a jury demand in its counterclaim for a declaration that its standards-posting activity does not infringe any copyright.

The plaintiffs moved to strike the jury demand, arguing that neither party seeks money damages, and that the right to demand a jury is theirs as the copyright holders.

Public Resource countered that it is entitled to a jury trial based on the fact that the plaintiffs could have requested a jury trial only had they sought money damages.

The other nonprofit plaintiffs are American Educational Research Association Inc. and National Council on Measurement in Education Inc.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan struck the jury demand Monday.

"Public Resource offers almost no argument regarding which of its claims entitles it to a jury or why," Chutkan wrote. "There is scant detail about why its noninfringement counterclaim is a legal issue which implicates the 7th Amendment, no discussion of the history of noninfringement claims or the analogous action that may have existed in the 18th century, and no explanation of what issues of fact the jury would need to find, or why a jury is appropriate to handle a noninfringement counterclaim even where there is no jury right for plaintiffs' infringement claim."

Even Public Resource's lawyer admitted that the jury would have nothing to decide at this point, according to the ruling.

"Public Resource asks the court to analyze its counterclaim independently of plaintiffs' claims, but fails to engage in any analysis of its own - likely because the pre-merger counterpart of a declaratory judgment counterclaim for noninfringement is simply a defense of noninfringement, which does not create a jury right," Chutkan added.

A counterclaim of noninfringement amounts to a defense of same, the judge ruled.

"In either case, it is the copyright holder who dictates the availability of a jury by choosing to seek money damages or not," Chutkan wrote. "Plaintiffs have not sought damages here; therefore Public Resource cannot demand a jury."

Chutkan repeated the opinion nearly verbatim Monday for a case against Public Resource filed by the American Society for Testing and Materials, National Fire Protection Association Inc., and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers Inc.

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