Jun 20, 2017

Utah Court Holds Public Universities Immune From Copyright Lawsuits

Israel v. University of Utah, 15-cv-00741 (D. Utah 2015)
By Fabiana Lauf

Utah has joined a growing number of states in which courts have held that public universities cannot be sued by private individuals in federal court for copyright infringement. In an Order dated April 18, 2017, the U.S. District Court of Utah dismissed a copyright infringement lawsuit brought against the University of Utah, holding that the university enjoyed sovereign immunity from such suits.

The case had been filed by Esther Israel, a former graduate student, who claimed that the university and a number of individual faculty members and students allegedly infringed the copyright in her master’s thesis and underlying research, by producing publications and other materials based on her research. Without addressing the merits of Israel’s complaint, the court held that the University of Utah, as an arm of the state, was immune from copyright infringement lawsuits under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Israel argued that Congress abrogated states’ sovereign immunity from copyright suits by enacting the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act (CRCA) in 1990. However, the district court concluded that Congress lacked the authority to enact CRCA, and held “federal courts have uniformly found that [CRCA] did not validly abrogate state sovereign immunity . . . .”