Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television, Inc.

Respondent Columbia Pictures Television, Inc., terminated agreements licensing several television series to three television stations owned by petitioner Feltner after the stations’ royalty payments became delinquent. When the stations continued to broadcast the programs, Columbia sued Feltner and others for, inter alia, copyright infringement. Columbia won partial summary judgment as to liability on its copyright infringement claims and then exercised the option afforded by § 504(c) of the Copyright Act of 1976 (Act) to recover statutory damages in lieu of actual damages. The District Court denied Feltner’s request for a jury trial, and awarded Columbia statutory damages following a bench trial. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that neither § 504(c) nor the Seventh Amendment provides a right to a jury trial on statutory damages.

Held:

1. There is no statutory right to a jury trial when a copyright owner elects to recover statutory damages. Section 504(c) makes no mention of a right to a jury trial or to juries at all, providing instead that damages should be assessed in an amount “the court deems just,” and that in the event that “the court finds” an infringement that is willful or innocent, “the court in its discretion” may increase or decrease the statutory damages. The word “court” in this context appears to mean judge, not jury. Other remedies provisions in the Act use the term “court” in contexts generally thought to confer authority on a judge, and the Act does not use the term “court” when addressing awards of actual damages and profits, see § 504(b), which generally are thought to constitute legal relief, Dairy Queen, Inc. v. Wood, 369 U. S. 469, 477. Feltner’s reliance on Lorillard v. Pons, 434 U. S. 575, 585, for a contrary interpretation is misplaced. There being no statutory right to a jury trial on statutory damages, the constitutional question must be addressed. See Tull v. United States, 481 U. S. 412, 417. Pp. 345-347.

2. The Seventh Amendment provides a right to a jury trial on all issues pertinent to an award of statutory damages under § 504(c), including the amount itself. Pp.347-355.

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