A copyright is the legal right to prevent others from using your originally authored work. Copyright is similar to trademark law, which covers logos and brand names, and protects inventions. The item or work that is to be copyrighted should be an original work, and not a reproduction or copy of property that has already been copyrighted.
According to federal copyright law, a copyright entitles the owner of the copyrighted work to many exclusive rights, such as the right to:
- Reproduce the copyrighted work;
- Distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public for sale;
- Perform the copyrighted work;
- Produce a license derived from other copyright materials; and
- Licensing rights in order to manufacture and make a product.
Some of the most common examples of creative work that copyrights can protect include, but may not be limited to:
- Recorded or sheet music;
- Books and novels;
- Software codes, video games, and CD-ROMs, although these may not be protected if they have already been distributed through a copyleft agreement; and
- Various forms of art, such as paintings, plays, dance choreography, and sculptures.
Under the federal law, you receive a copyright to your work automatically once you have “fixed” your original work in a “tangible medium of expression.” Additionally, you must have independently created the work, and not adapted it from something else. The work must be placed in a sufficiently permanent medium so that others can reproduce, view, and/or communicate it.
Copyright protection becomes available the moment that an author fixes a work in a tangible form, without the author having to do anything else. Once a type of work has copyright protection, the inventor or creator decides who can use the work and for what purposes the work can be used. Additionally, once the work is protected, no one else can use the work without the creator’s permission.
What Is Copyright Infringement?
Copyright infringement occurs when someone violates a copyright owner’s exclusive rights, without the express consent of the creator. In addition to the aforementioned rights, the following are some examples of copyrights and common copyright infringements:
- Infringement of the Right of Reproduction: Copyright owners maintain the exclusive right to reproduce their work in any fixed form. Because of this, when a person reproduces a work by copying and selling it, that act is considered to be infringing an owner’s right of reproduction. An example of infringement of the right of reproduction would be copying a painting of an original artwork and selling it;
- Infringement of the Right of Public Performance: If a person publicly performs an original protected song without the creator’s permission, the act would be considered infringing the copyright owner’s right of public performance;
- Infringement of the Right of Distribution: An example of infringing an owner’s right of distribution would be if someone sells unlicensed copies of someone else’s original work, such as a work of literature or art. A person could not copy a famous musician’s music and distribute copies of that music for financial gain;
- Infringement of the Right to Derivative Works: Copyright owners possess the right to modify their original work, as well as to create a new work based on their older works. When a person creates a derivative of an original work without permission, it would be considered infringement of the right to derivative works. The most common example of this would be creating a movie based on a book without the author’s permission to do so; and
- Infringement of the Right of Public Display: Copyright owners have the right to publicly show their work, including publishing their work online. If a person publishes someone else’s original work online, without the owner’s permission to do so, it would be considered infringing a copyright owner’s right of public display. An example of this would be how releasing a movie online for the general public without the owner’s permission would be considered an infringement of the right of public display.
What Are Some Copyright Infringement Penalties?
Copyright infringement penalties can be considerably more serious than other types of intellectual property claims. This is because many state and federal laws have made it a crime to engage in infringement of copyrighted material. These laws are often known as “anti-piracy” laws, and are specifically aimed at protecting electronic media such as songs, movies, and computer files.
As such, copyright infringement may result in criminal penalties such as criminal fines and a short jail sentence. These fines can reach hundreds or thousands of dollars. In addition to state or federal criminal penalties, the owner of the copyright may also impose a civil lawsuit on the infringing party. This can result in additional legal consequences, such as a damages award. In order to obtain damages through a civil lawsuit, however, the owner must prove the value of the intellectual property rights that were infringed upon.
If a person infringes on the exclusive rights of a copyright holder, the holder of the copyright may sue the infringer civilly for damages resulting from that infringement. Some of the most common legal penalties associated with copyright infringement include:
- Compensatory Damages: The infringing party will have to pay the copyright holder the money that they gained from the use of the copyright;
- Statutory Damages: Damages that are established by statute, specifically Section 504 of the Copyright Act. Statutory damages allow the owner of a copyright to recover a specified amount of damages, generally between $200.00 and $150,000.00 per work that is infringed. Statutory damages will be higher for parties that willfully violate a copyright, and lesser for parties that were not aware that they were violating a copyright;
- Injunction: An injunction is a court order that orders the party who is violating the copyright to stop their infringing acts;
- Orders of Seizure: If an infringing party possesses illegal copies of a copyrighted work, the court will generally order that the illegal property be seized; and/or
- Criminal Penalties: In the case of willful copyright infringement, the infringing party may also be held criminally liable. As such, they could face criminal penalties including imprisonment for a period of up to 5 years, fines of up to $250,000.00, or both per violation.
It is important to note that a copyright infringement lawsuit may include any combination of the above damages, as well as attorney fees and court costs.
When Should I File A Copyright Infringement Lawsuit?
Filing a lawsuit for copyright infringement will generally require various forms of proof. An example of this would be how the plaintiff will need to prove that they actually created the copyrighted material, and that their current copyright is valid and is not expired. The scope of copyright holder rights can be considerably broad, and may need to be supported by evidence. Examples of evidence include a copy of the work, as well as documents from previous filings.
The plaintiff will also need to provide documentation of their financial losses if they expect to be reimbursed. Speculative losses or losses that cannot be calculated will not be reimbursable.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Copyright Infringement Penalties?
You should hire a qualified copyright lawyer in your area if you need any assistance with copyright infringement issues. Your attorney can help you understand all of your legal rights and options. Additionally, if you need to file a lawsuit, your attorney will also be able to represent you during formal court hearings.