Stop, thief! How to win big in a copyright infringement case

ByMary E. Alvarez

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It’s heartbreaking to obtain your artwork on a t-shirt at Without end 21 or as an impression on someone’s weblog without having your authorization. The theft of your intellectual home, also identified as an infringement, is not that distinct from any theft of your house — apart from you can not go to the law enforcement to enable you get justice.

Regrettably, imposing your legal rights and getting adequately compensated for the infringement frequently will become your duty in the kind of submitting a lawsuit, which can be time-consuming. Even even worse? It typically charges extra money in authorized costs than you would obtain from successful the suit.

As a way all around this conundrum, the U.S. Congress bundled a “statutory damages” provision in the Copyright Act to make certain that artists obtain assured payment for an infringement alongside with creating any infringement situation simpler and a lot quicker to litigate.

What are statutory damages and how can you get them if your artwork is used without the need of your authorization? Let us discover out.

What qualifies as an infringement of artwork?

Before you can initiate any motion versus a party who has used your artwork without having authorization, they will have to have violated your copyright. So let us 1st review what copyright safeguards and when and how that defense goes into effect.

Your artistic function receives copyright safety as soon as your creative strategy is “fixed in a tangible medium.” That usually means that strategies are not guarded, only the physical expression of that idea. A portray, a sketch on a serviette, or even a photograph displayed on an Iphone, are all actual physical mediums that are issue to copyright protection.

The copyright holder (generally the creator but could also be a enterprise or other entity) has the unique proper to make copies, publicly exhibit, distribute, and develop derivatives of the artwork. Any particular person or entity that violates these legal rights is an infringer and matter to authorized action. Extra importantly, copyright is a no-fault legislation so it does not matter why or how the violation happened. If the copyright holder’s rights are violated, it is an infringement. Period.

Stop, thief! How to win big in a copyright infringement case

The plan is to really encourage a self-enforcement system wherever people and entities examine to make guaranteed that the visuals they use have the requisite permissions. If they do not, they might fork out a great deal much more as a result of a lawsuit versus you.

In this article is an illustration to illustrate the principle.

Let’s say Jack grabs your artwork from your personal website and uploads it to a web page he established known as Stock Artwork Online, exactly where he sells all his stolen electronic artwork to make some more funds. Jill is seeking for an picture to use in her blog site report and finds your artwork on Stock Art On-line. She then buys it and will make it her site article’s featured impression.

Obviously, Jack who intentionally copied, then publicly shown the artwork on his web page, and distributed the artwork to Jill, is responsible of infringement. But, Jill is also responsible of infringement for displaying your artwork on her blog site. It doesn’t make a difference that she lawfully ordered the artwork and was unaware that it was stolen. She is an infringer and subject matter to legal action just like Jack

Due to the no-fault component of Copyright law, most infringement situations do not revolve all over no matter if there was an infringement, but rather on how significantly money the copyright holder need to get for the violation.

Copyright registration is like getting artwork insurance coverage

Since there is no agency, like the law enforcement or FBI, that enforces copyright violations, it is up to the copyright holder to enforce their legal rights by way of a lawsuit or other lawful motion..

However, the superior charge of a lawsuit often would make it a lot more high-priced to sue the infringer than the injury award that the copyright holder gets from the lawsuit. Statutory damages reduce this problem. To realize how statutory damages work, let us seem at what transpires in a conventional lawsuit with non-statutory damages.

How does a regular infringement lawsuit perform?

In a regular infringement lawsuit with non-statutory damages, the copyright holder can win:

genuine damages In addition a proportion of the revenue that are attributed to the infringement.

Real damages represent the funds that would have been obtained if the artist experienced sold or licensed it to the infringer. To illustrate this idea, let’s continue on with the infringement circumstance mentioned earlier.

Suppose you have been suing Jill for her use of your artwork on her web site. Your cost for licensing get the job done to a blog is $400, so the actual injury is the decline of that licensing cost. The actuality that you would by no means have certified the operate to Jill’s web site or that she would by no means have paid $400 for it is immaterial.

The share of the income can be substantially trickier to calculate. Yet again, let’s use our past situation.

Jill’s web-site calls for a compensated membership, from which she tends to make $1000 for each thirty day period. Your artwork has been on her site for precisely one month and that blog site short article created 10% of all views that thirty day period. The weblog article is worth 10% of $1,000 or $100.

Through several calculations, the courtroom has identified that 25% of the individuals that viewed the posting bought there mainly because they appreciated the photograph they observed though the other 75% clicked on the posting simply because of the title and content material. So, of the $100 worth attributed to the report, only $25 is attributable to your artwork.

Even worse, from the $25, Jill can deduct a part of her company charges, such as world wide web internet hosting expenses, internet marketing charges, lease, and much more.

In the stop, you could only be entitled to a most non-statutory destruction award of all around $420. Due to the fact any lawsuit will expense upwards of $5,000 as well as all the time and hard work, it obviously does not shell out to enforce your legal rights.

The result is that Jill is not penalized and you obtain very little for the infringement. In reality, Jill could very likely carry on to use the image considering the fact that it is not likely to ever have a damage benefit substantial enough to make legal motion worthwhile.

What are statutory damages and how can I get them?

The situation of costs being more than the possible return in an infringement lawsuit is pretty frequent. Congress developed the statutory damages provision of the Copyright Act to relieve that issue. 

Even so, statutory damages are only out there if you file a copyright registration for the operate with the U.S. Copyright Office environment both:

    • in advance of the infringement ocurred, or
    • the registration must have been submitted inside of 3 months of publication (see below for facts on what constitutes publication).

Copyright Registration is quick to do using the Copyright Office’s Registration Portal. It prices $45 to register a single perform, these types of as a painting or drawing, or $55 for a team of up to 750 photos from the exact photographer in the exact same calendar 12 months. (For more about Copyright Registration, see Organizing for the Copyright Registration Method).

If the Copyright registration necessities are satisfied, the copyright holder is entitled to:

    • a minimum of $750 to a highest of $30,000 for each infringement.
    • up to $150,000 per infringement if it is proven to be willful or intentional.
    • realistic legal service fees for the winning party.

Let us as soon as yet again appear at our before situation with Jack and Jill.

Statutory damages would have to have that Jill pay out at the very least $750 for her infringement. The copyright holder is not required to present proof of damages or profits Nonetheless, the court docket will contemplate it or other proof in determining exactly where along the $750-$30,000 variety damages should fall.

Jill didn’t receive a lot revenue from the infringement and you as the copyright holder did not reduce quite a lot dollars so it is likely the award would be on the decreased conclude of the scale, like $1,500.

You can acquire even extra revenue if you can verify that the infringer understood they had been violating your copyright.

In our situation, it would seem like Jack intentionally and knowingly stole your function. Having said that, proving someone’s condition of intellect without physical evidence can be difficult, demanding mental experts, depositions of his friends and family members, or investigation of his e-mail and desktops.

Whilst the damage award of the Jill lawsuit may possibly not look like ample to warrant the charges of the lawsuit and Jack’s Lawsuit may be very pricey owing to the witnesses and investigation expected, Congress has set that trouble as well.

The Copyright Act also has a provision that makes it possible for the winner of the lawsuit’s legal service fees to be paid out for by the loser. The lawful service fees provision doesn’t just save you funds but also will make the total litigation system much easier and easier.

To start with, most attorneys will choose the case on “contingency.” That suggests that you won’t have to fork out any lawful fees upfront. The legal professional will get the expenses at the conclusion when the destruction award is acquired.

Also, with the infringer knowing that for each hour that they defend by themselves, they have to spend for your authorized costs, they are additional most likely to settle the scenario early fairly than dragging it out, getting you money in your pocket quicker..


The benefits of registering your do the job with the U.S. Copyright Workplace so you can acquire statutory damages in an infringement scenario are very clear. Copyright registration is like insurance. For a little payment, you can be positive that you can enforce your copyright. Copyright registration will make most infringement lawsuits economically feasible, where they may well not have been right before. And far more importantly, most intellectual residence lawyers will acquire an infringement scenario with statutory damages on contingency so you will not have to spend authorized charges in advance. All that requires to be done is to sign-up your inventive operates.

Do you sign-up your performs for copyright safety? Permit us know in the reviews under.

Steve Schlackman

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a distinctive standpoint on art, law, and organization. He is currently serving as the Chief Product Officer at Artrepreneur. You can locate his images at or as a result of Fremin Gallery in NYC.


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