Infringement occurs when a person engages in the unauthorized use of material that has been protected under infringement laws. These types of violations generally involve material that has been protected under trademark, patent, or copyright protections. For instance, if a person uses a logo that has been trademarked without the owner’s permission, they might be subject to a trademark infringement violation.
Contributory infringement laws impose liability on someone who has not actively participated in infringing activities, but has nevertheless contributed to the infringement violations. To be held liable for contributory infringement, the parties need to know that they are engaging in infringement of protected content. Also, the defendant needs to make material contributions or must have helped enable the infringement. Contributory infringement is sometimes known as secondary liability or contributory liability.
An example of this is where a person supplies a manufacturer with a logo that has been trademarked, knowing that it will be used for purposes that violate the trademark protections.
Contributory infringement can happen in a variety of settings, including those that have to do with:
While the basic idea behind contributory infringement is the same for these types of examples, there may be slight differences in the application of liability principles for copyright, trademark, and patent cases. For instance, trademark and patent infringement rely on codified statutes for contributory liability definitions. In comparison, contributory copyright infringement is based largely on case law. Thus, there may be differences in how each of these play out.
Depending on the nature of the infringement and the facts involved, contributory infringement penalties can be just as severe as those involved with direct infringement violations. These may include penalties such as fines, civil damages for losses caused by the infringement, confiscation of materials used in the infringement process, and, in some cases, serious criminal penalties. Defenses may be available to the defendant depending on the circumstances.
Contributory infringement violations can lead to some very serious legal consequences, as the defendant may face consequences as if they were actively and primarily involved in the infringement themselves. You may wish to hire a qualified intellectual property lawyer if you have any legal issues involving contributory infringement. Your attorney can help assess your situation to determine what your legal rights and options are. Also, if you need to file a lawsuit, your lawyer can be on hand to represent you during the process.