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


It’s heartbreaking to come across your artwork on a t-shirt at Without end 21 or as an impression on someone’s blog without the need of your authorization. The theft of your mental property, also recognised as an infringement, is not that various from any theft of your assets — apart from you can’t go to the police to help you get justice.

Regretably, imposing your rights and being appropriately compensated for the infringement generally gets your obligation in the kind of submitting a lawsuit, which can be time-consuming. Even worse? It typically expenses extra dollars in lawful service fees than you would receive from profitable the go well with.

As a way about this conundrum, the U.S. Congress involved a “statutory damages” provision in the Copyright Act to assure that artists obtain confirmed compensation for an infringement along with generating any infringement situation simpler and a lot quicker to litigate.

What are statutory damages and how can you get them if your artwork is utilised without your authorization? Let us locate out.

What qualifies as an infringement of artwork?

Just before you can initiate any motion from a get together who has applied your artwork without authorization, they need to have violated your copyright. So let’s initial critique what copyright shields and when and how that protection goes into influence.

Your artistic do the job gets copyright security as soon as your innovative concept is “fixed in a tangible medium.” That means that strategies are not guarded, only the actual physical expression of that idea. A portray, a sketch on a napkin, or even a image displayed on an Iphone, are all bodily mediums that are subject to copyright safety.

The copyright holder (usually the creator but could also be a company or other entity) has the distinctive proper to make copies, publicly show, distribute, and create derivatives of the artwork. Any particular person or entity that violates these legal rights is an infringer and matter to lawful action. Additional importantly, copyright is a no-fault law so it does not issue 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 concept is to inspire a self-enforcement mechanism wherever people today and entities check out to make guaranteed that the images they use have the requisite permissions. If they don’t, they may possibly pay a large amount additional as a result of a lawsuit versus you.

Listed here is an illustration to illustrate the strategy.

Let’s say Jack grabs your artwork from your personal web page and uploads it to a website he created termed Inventory Art On-line, wherever he sells all his stolen digital artwork to make some additional hard cash. Jill is looking for an graphic to use in her blog site report and finds your artwork on Stock Artwork On the net. She then purchases it and will make it her blog article’s featured image.

Definitely, Jack who intentionally copied, then publicly exhibited the artwork on his internet site, and dispersed the artwork to Jill, is responsible of infringement. But, Jill is also responsible of infringement for exhibiting your artwork on her weblog. It does not subject that she lawfully bought the artwork and was unaware that it was stolen. She is an infringer and matter to lawful motion just like Jack

Thanks to the no-fault component of Copyright legislation, most infringement circumstances do not revolve about irrespective of whether there was an infringement, but somewhat on how significantly revenue the copyright holder should really receive for the violation.

Copyright registration is like having art insurance

Due to the fact there is no company, like the police or FBI, that enforces copyright violations, it is up to the copyright holder to implement their legal rights by means of a lawsuit or other authorized action..

Sad to say, the substantial expense of a lawsuit typically can make it a lot more high-priced to sue the infringer than the hurt award that the copyright holder gets from the lawsuit. Statutory damages reduce this challenge. To comprehend how statutory damages get the job done, let us appear at what happens in a standard lawsuit with non-statutory damages.

How does a regular infringement lawsuit function?

In a common infringement lawsuit with non-statutory damages, the copyright holder can gain:

real damages As well as a percentage of the profits that are attributed to the infringement.

True damages signify the revenue that would have been acquired if the artist had offered or accredited it to the infringer. To illustrate this strategy, let us carry on with the infringement situation discussed before.

Suppose you were suing Jill for her use of your artwork on her weblog. Your fee for licensing get the job done to a blog is $400, so the genuine harm is the reduction of that licensing charge. The simple fact that you would hardly ever have certified the function to Jill’s weblog or that she would never ever have paid out $400 for it is immaterial.

The proportion of the financial gain can be a great deal trickier to work out. Once again, let’s use our earlier state of affairs.

Jill’s internet site calls for a paid membership, from which she tends to make $1000 for every thirty day period. Your artwork has been on her website for particularly one month and that website write-up produced 10% of all views that month. The site post is worthy of 10% of $1,000 or $100.

As a result of various calculations, the courtroom has determined that 25% of the persons that considered the posting bought there for the reason that they preferred the picture they saw while the other 75% clicked on the short article since of the title and articles. So, of the $100 worth attributed to the short article, only $25 is attributable to your artwork.

Even worse, from the $25, Jill can deduct a part of her enterprise charges, these as world wide web hosting charges, advertising and marketing expenditures, hire, and additional.

In the finish, you might only be entitled to a optimum non-statutory damage award of all-around $420. Considering that any lawsuit will price tag upwards of $5,000 moreover all the time and work, it obviously doesn’t fork out to enforce your rights.

The result is that Jill is not penalized and you get almost nothing for the infringement. In fact, Jill could possible continue on to use the impression due to the fact it is unlikely to at any time have a harm price substantial plenty of to make lawful motion worthwhile.

What are statutory damages and how can I get them?

The challenge of costs currently being extra than the possible return in an infringement lawsuit is extremely popular. Congress made the statutory damages provision of the Copyright Act to alleviate that challenge. 

Nonetheless, statutory damages are only accessible if you file a copyright registration for the get the job done with the U.S. Copyright Office environment either:

    • just before the infringement ocurred, or
    • the registration ought to have been filed in a few months of publication (see in this article for information and facts on what constitutes publication).

Copyright Registration is quick to do using the Copyright Office’s Registration Portal. It expenditures $45 to sign-up a single operate, these kinds of as a portray or drawing, or $55 for a group of up to 750 pictures from the same photographer in the same calendar 12 months. (For extra about Copyright Registration, see Preparing for the Copyright Registration System).

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

    • a minimal of $750 to a maximum of $30,000 for each infringement.
    • up to $150,000 for every infringement if it is established to be willful or intentional.
    • fair authorized service fees for the profitable bash.

Let us as soon as all over again look at our before circumstance with Jack and Jill.

Statutory damages would need that Jill pay at least $750 for her infringement. The copyright holder is not needed to current proof of damages or profits Having said that, the courtroom will consider it or other evidence in identifying in which along the $750-$30,000 selection damages should really fall.

Jill did not acquire substantially earnings from the infringement and you as the copyright holder did not eliminate quite substantially funds so it is probable the award would be on the reduce finish of the scale, like $1,500.

You can acquire even far more income if you can confirm that the infringer understood they have been violating your copyright.

In our state of affairs, it would seem like Jack intentionally and knowingly stole your work. Having said that, proving someone’s state of mind devoid of bodily evidence can be challenging, demanding mental authorities, depositions of his mates and family members, or examination of his e-mails and desktops.

Although the injury award of the Jill lawsuit may not appear like enough to warrant the prices of the lawsuit and Jack’s Lawsuit may be really pricey because of to the witnesses and assessment demanded, Congress has set that dilemma as well.

The Copyright Act also has a provision that will allow the winner of the lawsuit’s legal expenses to be compensated for by the loser. The legal expenses provision does not just help save you revenue but also helps make the entire litigation system easier and less complicated.

Initially, most lawyers will just take the situation on “contingency.” That indicates that you will not have to pay any lawful fees upfront. The attorney will acquire the costs at the close when the problems award is gained.

Also, with the infringer recognizing that for each and every hour that they protect on their own, they have to pay for your lawful fees, they are additional probably to settle the situation early alternatively than dragging it out, finding you cash in your pocket a lot quicker..


The benefits of registering your function with the U.S. Copyright Office environment so you can get statutory damages in an infringement case are distinct. Copyright registration is like insurance. For a small cost, you can be absolutely sure that you can implement your copyright. Copyright registration will make most infringement lawsuits monetarily feasible, in which they may possibly not have been ahead of. And more importantly, most intellectual property lawyers will get an infringement scenario with statutory damages on contingency so you will not have to spend lawful service fees in advance. All that desires to be carried out is to sign-up your artistic performs.

Do you sign-up your functions for copyright defense? Permit us know in the comments underneath.

Steve Schlackman

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Legal professional with a qualifications in marketing and advertising, Steve has a unique standpoint on artwork, legislation, and organization. He is at present serving as the Chief Solution Officer at Artrepreneur. You can find his photography at or by way of Fremin Gallery in NYC.


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