Watts v. Cypress Hill, No. 03 C 9452 & 06 C 3348, 2008 WL 2540811 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 28, 2008) (Norgle, J.).

Judge Norgle denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s copyright infringement claim. Defendants’ motion was based upon three arguments: 1) plaintiffs did not have a valid copyright registration; 2) plaintiffs’ suit was barred by the statute of limitations; and 3) plaintiffs failed to file a Notice of Use as required by the 1909 Copyright Act. Plaintiffs authored the song “Is It Because I’m Black” in 1968, and recorded a version of it in 1969 (the “Song”). Plaintiffs alleged that defendants, including the musical group Cypress Hill (click here for some of the group’s music on their MySpace page), infringed plaintiffs’ copyright in the Song by using parts of it in their album titled Black Sunday.


Copyright Registration


Defendants argued that plaintiffs did not meet their burden of proving a valid copyright registration because instead of the registration certificate or a copy of the deposited CD, plaintiffs produced a printout of the Copyright Offices’ summary of their registration. Because defendants did not dispute the information in the summary, the Court denied summary judgment. The validity of the registration was a question of fact for the jury.


Statute of Limitations


As to plaintiff Watts, defendants argued that Watts’s claim fell outside the Copyright Act’s three year statute of limitations because Watts contacted the Copyright Office in April 2003 to inquire about the status of his copyright in the Song, more than three years before Watts’ June 20, 2006 filing date. During his deposition, Watts testified:

  • That he was not aware of the alleged infringement when he contacted the Copyright Office;
  • That he contacted the Copyright Office just to check on the status of his copyright; and
  • That his contact with the Copyright Office was prompted by learning of the alleged infringement.

The Court held that this contradictory evidence would allow a jury to draw an inference for either party, making summary judgment inappropriate. The Court also denied summary judgment as to plaintiff Jones. The court found no evidence that Jones did know or reasonably should have known of the alleged infringement in April 2003.


Notice of Use


Plaintiffs’ failure to file a Notice of Use pursuant to the 1909 Copyright Act was irrelevant. Congress deleted the Notice of Use requirement effective January 1, 1978, long before any alleged infringement occurred.