Copyright Infringement: Minimum Copying Standards

Authored by , LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

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Is any Amount of Copying of a Copyrighted Work Considered Copyright Infringement?

No.  Because copyright focuses on artistic and intellectual ideas, most courts recognize the likelihood of creative overlap.  In other words, people often come up with similar ideas without knowingly copying that idea from someone else.  Therefore, in order to prevent frivolous lawsuits, courts require a certain amount of copying in order to constitute copyright infringement.

What is the Minimum Amount of Copying Necessary to be Considered Copyright Infringement?

Because copyrights can range from song lyrics to ideas for a television show, there is no set standard applicable to all types of creative works.  However, most courts name three instances where copying is too insignificant to be considered infringement:

  1. Small technical violations:  An example of this would be putting a photocopy of a movie poster on your wall.  Even though the movie studio technically never gave you permission to do this, no court would honor a lawsuit if the studio tried to sue you.
  2. Trivial copying:  For example, using verbs in an article that are also used in other articles.   Most courts require copying that evidences some meaningful link to another's creative work.  So while the use of common verbs doesn?t really show anything, the copying of specific sentences from another article may be considered infringement.
  3. Copying that constitutes a small and unsubstantial portion of the copyrighted work as a whole:  For instance, if you were to play two notes from the ending portion of a piano solo.  In contrast, playing the entire number from a piano solo's climax is likely to be considered infringement.

How Does this Minimum Copying Standard Relate to the Infringement Defense of Fair Use?

The use of a minimum copying standard deals with whether or not infringement even exists.  In other words, the minimum copying standard determines whether or not one can even sue in the first place.  Fair use contrastingly assumes that illegal copying does in fact exist.  More specifically, fair use is considered an excuse for allowing copyright infringement once a lawsuit is already established.

How Can a Lawyer Help Me?

If you feel your copyrighted work is being illegally copied, you should contact an intellectual property lawyer immediately to protect your interests.  A lawyer can help determine whether or not the copying is significant enough to warrant a lawsuit, and even assist in reaching a settlement or licensing agreement with the other party.

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Last Modified: 01-10-2013 03:19 PM PST

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