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

It’s heartbreaking to find your artwork on a t-shirt at Forever 21 or as an picture on someone’s blog site devoid of your permission. The theft of your mental residence, also recognized as an infringement, is not that diverse from any theft of your home — besides you cannot go to the law enforcement to aid you get justice.

Regrettably, imposing your legal rights and being properly compensated for the infringement often will become your accountability in the kind of filing a lawsuit, which can be time-consuming. Even even worse? It typically charges additional revenue in legal costs than you would acquire from winning the fit.

As a way all-around this conundrum, the U.S. Congress bundled a “statutory damages” provision in the Copyright Act to assure that artists get guaranteed payment for an infringement alongside with generating any infringement circumstance simpler and a lot quicker to litigate.

What are statutory damages and how can you get them if your artwork is applied with out your permission? Let us uncover out.

What qualifies as an infringement of artwork?

In advance of you can initiate any motion against a party who has utilised your artwork with no permission, they will have to have violated your copyright. So let’s 1st critique what copyright safeguards and when and how that security goes into impact.

Your inventive function gets copyright protection as soon as your inventive strategy is “fixed in a tangible medium.” That suggests that ideas are not shielded, only the physical expression of that idea. A portray, a sketch on a serviette, or even a photograph displayed on an Apple iphone, are all physical mediums that are subject matter to copyright security.

The copyright holder (commonly the creator but could also be a enterprise or other entity) has the distinctive appropriate to make copies, publicly exhibit, distribute, and generate derivatives of the artwork. Any individual or entity that violates these rights is an infringer and subject to legal motion. Extra importantly, copyright is a no-fault regulation so it does not subject why or how the violation occurred. If the copyright holder’s legal rights are violated, it is an infringement. Period.

The concept is to really encourage a self-enforcement mechanism wherever folks and entities check to make sure that the photographs they use have the requisite permissions. If they never, they may possibly spend a great deal additional by means of a lawsuit towards you.

Below is an example to illustrate the strategy.

Let’s say Jack grabs your artwork from your particular web page and uploads it to a site he created called Stock Artwork Online, where he sells all his stolen electronic art to make some excess cash. Jill is seeking for an impression to use in her web site posting and finds your artwork on Stock Art On the internet. She then purchases it and makes it her website article’s showcased image.

Definitely, Jack who intentionally copied, then publicly exhibited the artwork on his internet site, and dispersed the artwork to Jill, is guilty of infringement. But, Jill is also responsible of infringement for displaying your artwork on her site. It doesn’t issue that she legally ordered the artwork and was unaware that it was stolen. She is an infringer and topic to lawful action just like Jack

Due to the no-fault element of Copyright regulation, most infringement circumstances do not revolve about whether or not there was an infringement, but fairly on how significantly cash the copyright holder should really get for the violation.

Copyright registration is like obtaining artwork insurance plan

Given that 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 via a lawsuit or other legal action..

However, the superior price of a lawsuit usually will make it a lot more costly to sue the infringer than the damage award that the copyright holder gets from the lawsuit. Statutory damages ease this dilemma. To recognize how statutory damages work, let us glimpse at what happens in a regular lawsuit with non-statutory damages.

How does a standard infringement lawsuit do the job?

In a traditional infringement lawsuit with non-statutory damages, the copyright holder can get:

precise damages Plus a percentage of the profits that are attributed to the infringement.

Actual damages stand for the money that would have been been given if the artist experienced bought or licensed it to the infringer. To illustrate this notion, let’s continue with the infringement scenario talked over previously.

Suppose you were being suing Jill for her use of your artwork on her website. Your price for licensing do the job to a weblog is $400, so the real injury is the loss of that licensing payment. The point that you would by no means have accredited the get the job done to Jill’s website or that she would under no circumstances have compensated $400 for it is immaterial.

The percentage of the gain can be much trickier to work out. Yet again, let us use our former circumstance.

Jill’s site demands a paid membership, from which she would make $1000 per month. Your artwork has been on her internet site for precisely one particular month and that site write-up created 10% of all views that month. The blog report is really worth 10% of $1,000 or $100.

By means of different calculations, the court has determined that 25% of the individuals that considered the posting got there due to the fact they preferred the picture they noticed while the other 75% clicked on the post because of the title and information. So, of the $100 value attributed to the post, only $25 is attributable to your artwork.

Even worse, from the $25, Jill can deduct a portion of her enterprise charges, this sort of as world-wide-web internet hosting costs, promoting fees, rent, and far more.

In the stop, you could only be entitled to a greatest non-statutory harm award of about $420. Considering the fact that any lawsuit will value upwards of $5,000 moreover all the time and effort, it evidently does not shell out to enforce your rights.

The final result is that Jill isn’t penalized and you receive very little for the infringement. In actuality, Jill could possible continue to use the graphic considering the fact that it is not likely to at any time have a harm price significant plenty of to make lawful action worthwhile.

What are statutory damages and how can I get them?

The difficulty of expenditures currently being much more than the likely return in an infringement lawsuit is really common. Congress developed the statutory damages provision of the Copyright Act to relieve that challenge. 

Nevertheless, statutory damages are only available if you file a copyright registration for the perform with the U.S. Copyright Office possibly:

    • prior to the infringement ocurred, or
    • the registration have to have been filed inside 3 months of publication (see here for details on what constitutes publication).

Copyright Registration is easy to do working with the Copyright Office’s Registration Portal. It prices $45 to sign up a single get the job done, this sort of as a portray or drawing, or $55 for a team of up to 750 pictures from the exact same photographer in the very same calendar calendar year. (For far more about Copyright Registration, see Planning for the Copyright Registration System).

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

    • a least of $750 to a maximum of $30,000 for each infringement.
    • up to $150,000 per infringement if it is confirmed to be willful or intentional.
    • acceptable authorized costs for the profitable get together.

Let’s after once again search at our previously state of affairs with Jack and Jill.

Statutory damages would have to have that Jill shell out at minimum $750 for her infringement. The copyright holder is not expected to current proof of damages or income Even so, the courtroom will look at it or other evidence in determining wherever along the $750-$30,000 assortment damages ought to slide.

Jill didn’t get a great deal profit from the infringement and you as the copyright holder did not eliminate incredibly much income so it is possible the award would be on the lessen conclusion of the scale, like $1,500.

You can receive even more income if you can show that the infringer understood they ended up violating your copyright.

In our state of affairs, it appears to be like Jack intentionally and knowingly stole your get the job done. Nevertheless, proving someone’s state of thoughts devoid of bodily proof can be tricky, requiring mental authorities, depositions of his pals and relatives, or evaluation of his emails and computer systems.

Although the injury award of the Jill lawsuit could not look like ample to warrant the costs of the lawsuit and Jack’s Lawsuit could possibly be very high-priced owing to the witnesses and analysis essential, Congress has fixed that difficulty much too.

The Copyright Act also has a provision that enables the winner of the lawsuit’s authorized charges to be compensated for by the loser. The legal costs provision does not just preserve you cash but also tends to make the total litigation approach much easier and less difficult.

1st, most lawyers will just take the circumstance on “contingency.” That signifies that you will not have to fork out any authorized service fees upfront. The legal professional will consider the fees at the conclude when the injury award is obtained.

Also, with the infringer recognizing that for every single hour that they protect on their own, they have to pay out for your lawful expenses, they are a lot more probable to settle the circumstance early relatively than dragging it out, receiving you revenue in your pocket quicker..


The advantages of registering your operate with the U.S. Copyright Place of work so you can acquire statutory damages in an infringement circumstance are very clear. Copyright registration is like insurance. For a small cost, you can be guaranteed that you can enforce your copyright. Copyright registration will make most infringement lawsuits economically feasible, exactly where they may not have been in advance of. And much more importantly, most intellectual property attorneys will take an infringement scenario with statutory damages on contingency so you will not have to pay lawful costs in advance. All that requires to be accomplished is to sign-up your inventive operates.

Do you sign-up your is effective for copyright security? Permit us know in the remarks underneath.

Steve Schlackman

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Lawyer with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique viewpoint on artwork, law, and organization. He is currently serving as the Chief Product or service Officer at Artrepreneur. You can come across his images at or by way of Fremin Gallery in NYC.