Evergreen Safety Council v. RSA Network

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: 10-17-2012
  • Case #: 11-35680
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge M. Smith for the Court; Circuit Judges Schroeder and Reinhardt
  • Full Text Opinion

In a copyright action, when a defendant operates under color of title and a reasonable belief in free use, a willful infringement copyright claim may be barred by laches.

RSA Networks (RSA) appeals the dismissal of a copyright infringement claim against Evergreen Safety Council (Evergreen). RSA contends that Evergreen willfully infringed on its copyright, therefore, the district court was erroneous in applying laches because the elements of laches were not satisfied by the evidence. RSA also maintains claims for injunctive relief were reserved. Evergreen is a non-profit that trains pilot escort vehicles and RSA has worked in the pilot escort business for over 25 years. Both companies “provide training and training manuals to use in conjunction with mandatory state certification programs.” Evergreen filed suit against RSA in 2009, “seeking declaratory judgment of non-infringement” relating to manual artwork. RSA counterclaimed for copyright infringement claiming willful infringement and Evergreen responded by asserting laches among other affirmative defenses. A defendant must “prove both an unreasonable delay by the plaintiff and prejudice to itself” to assert laches as a defense. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not err in finding sufficient evidence to apply laches. Evergreen acted under color of title and had reasonable belief in fair use, so the district court properly held that the “willfulness exemption was not applicable and RSA’s copyright claim was barred by laches.” Injunctive relief is barred when the future infringements stem from the claimed “original sin.” RSA’s claim extends from Evergreen copying pieces of RSA’s 1996 manual. The Court held that RSA’s motion for prospective relief was properly denied because the similarities have been eliminated and any existing similarities are protected by “Evergreen’s use of information in the public domain.” AFFIRMED.

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