FELTNER v. COLUMBIA PICTURES TELEVISION, INC.

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
96-1768
Petitioner 
Feltner
Respondent 
Columbia Pictures Television, Inc.
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
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Facts of the Case 

In 1991, Columbia Pictures Television, Inc., terminated agreements licensing several television series, including "Who's the Boss," "Silver Spoons," "Hart to Hart," and "T. J. Hooker," to three television stations owned by C. Elvin Feltner after the stations' royalty payments became delinquent. Columbia sued Feltner after his stations continued to broadcast the programs for copyright infringement. After winning partial summary judgment as to liability on its copyright infringement claims, Columbia attempted to recover statutory damages under section 504(c) of the Copyright Act. The District Court denied Feltner's request for a jury trial and awarded Columbia statutory damages following a bench trial. In affirming, the Court of Appeals held that neither section 504(c) nor the Seventh Amendment provides a right to a jury trial on statutory damages.

Question 

Does section 504(c) of the Copyright Act or the Seventh Amendment grant a right to a jury trial when a copyright owner elects to recover statutory damages?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Feltner, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 17 U.S.C. 504

Yes. In an opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that, despite section 504(c) of the Copyright Act's silence, the Seventh Amendment provides the right to a jury trial, which includes a right to a jury determination of the amount of statutory damages. Applying a historical Seventh Amendment analysis, Justice Thomas concluded that "there is clear and direct historical evidence that juries, both as a general matter and in copyright cases, set the amount of damages awarded to a successful plaintiff." "As a result, if a party so demands, a jury must determine the actual amount of statutory damages under [section 504(c)] in order 'to preserve the substance of the common-law right of trial by jury,'" wrote Justice Thomas.

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FELTNER v. COLUMBIA PICTURES TELEVISION, INC.. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 29 October 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_96_1768>.
FELTNER v. COLUMBIA PICTURES TELEVISION, INC., The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_96_1768 (last visited October 29, 2014).
"FELTNER v. COLUMBIA PICTURES TELEVISION, INC.," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed October 29, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_96_1768.