Under the Copyright Act of 1976, inventors of all copyrighted works have exclusive rights to reproduction and sale. In a copyright infringement case, these rights are violated, and creators may file a lawsuit in federal court against the individual or group who used the work without permission. If the court finds proof of copyright violation, then the copyright holder may demand fair compensation for the damages caused by the wrongful infringement of his work.
Below are the top three legal options that a person with a pending lawsuit for copyright infringement may consider.
1. Check if the Material in Question Has Copyright Registration
If you are accused of copyright infringement, the first thing you can do, aside from seeking legal advice, is to check that the material has been registered with the Copyright Office. If there is no legal basis for copyright violation, then you cannot be sued for infringement.
For a work to be considered registered, it must go through two registration stages: filling out a form with two work samples attached, and submitting these documents to the U.S. Copyright Office. Having a material protected by copyright laws costs less than $55 for single registrations. There is no specified time limit for registering a material or creative work, but most lawyers would advise inventors to get their works copyright-protected within the first months of its publication date.
2. Know Your Legal Defenses
Individuals sued for copyright infringement usually end up using the following legal defenses:
Innocent Infringement. Under this condition, the accused had no knowledge that a work was protected by copyright, leading to unauthorized use. Innocent infringers will not be liable to pay copyright ownership damages, but the court will order them to stop illegally distributing or using the copyrighted material. If the infringed work was used for commercial purposes, the party with no legal rights for usage may be asked to pay the creator an amount equivalent to the value generated by his unlawful action.
However, if the material contains a valid copyright notice, this defense cannot be used in court. A copyright notice would contain specific elements such as the word “copyright”, the symbol (©) followed by the date of publication, and owner of the copyright.
Fair Use Doctrine. Under this defense, the alleged infringer may claim that limited usage of an original author’s work qualifies as fair use. Under the US copyright laws, usage is not considered an infringement of copyright when conducted “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.”
Authorization from the Owner of the Copyright. This refers to rights granted by the copyright owner to a third party under licenses or a legal contract. In this case, the person who allegedly infringes on another’s work is in fact legally allowed to use the original works.
Independent Creation. With the abundance of copyrighted materials and works with intellectual property rights, similarities may occur. In this case, alleged infringers may say that their work was not copied from the plaintiff’s original work.
3. Be ready to Face Legal Sanctions
If the court finds you guilty of violating the Copyright Act, you need to be prepared to face the legal consequences of your actions. Depending on the type of material covered by copyright, the complaining party may demand damage penalties of up to $100,000. Moreover, the court shall issue an order preventing you to sell and reproduce the work in the future. In some cases, you may have to pay for the plaintiff’s attorney fees.
The court determines the monetary damages in infringement cases by considering actual damages (lost sales, licensing revenue, and other financial loss), infringer’s profits (awarded if it exceeds the amount of compensatory damages), statutory damages (monetary damages specified under the copyright law), and even expenses associated with the copyright litigation.
In an infringement action, plaintiffs may not demand both actual and statutory damages. Depending on the extent of the infringing activity, payment for the latter may range from $750 to $30,000.
Scope of Copyright Protection
If a material has copyright registered in the United States, but the copyright violations were conducted outside of the country, can you still be sued for infringed rights? The answer is that copyright protection rules are similar across the globe due to international treaties like the Berne Copyright Convention.
If you are looking for a lawyer in Washington specializing in copyright and intellectual property laws, you may contact us at War IP Law. Our seasoned intellectual property attorney has over a decade of experience in representing both plaintiffs and defendants and will surely give you legal advice regarding copyright infringement litigations.