Hotaling v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 118 F.3d 199 (4th Cir. 1997) (full-text).
Factual Background Edit
Defendant Church purchased one lawful copy of plaintiff’s materials sold in microfiche format. Defendant decided to make microfiche copies of these materials to distribute to its branch libraries. In 1991, the defendant stopped making copies of the materials. In 1992, the defendant instructed the branch libraries to return all copies to the main library branch. The defendant destroyed all copies except for one. The lawful copy was destroyed, and the library was left with one unlawful copy of plaintiff’s copyrighted research materials. Plaintiff sued the defendant in August 1995.
District Court Proceedings Edit
The District Court granted summary judgment for the defendant.
Appellate Court Proceedings Edit
The court reversed the grant of summary judgment. Because defendant’s copying took place more than three years prior to the filing of the complaint, beyond the statute of limitations for copyright infringement, plaintiff’s reproduction right was not infringed as it was no longer actionable.
However, the court held that factual issues remained on whether defendant violated Plaintiff’s exclusive right to distribute the materials. Merely making this unlawful copy available to any member of the public could constitute infringement of plaintiff’s public distribution right, regardless of the fact that there was no evidence that anyone ever viewed or checked out the microfiche.
This case is important for file sharing cases because usually there is no evidence that a copy of a file was ever transmitted. Record companies have made the argument that by merely having music files in a shared file folder, this makes the work available to the public. Thus, this constitutes an infringement of the record company’s public distribution right regardless of whether it is actually transmitted.