WestLord & Associates

Exploring Copyright Infringement Damages: A Comprehensive Guide

Copyright infringement can be a complex legal issue, and understanding the potential damages involved is crucial for both copyright owners seeking compensation and accused parties defending against infringement allegations.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki

In this in-depth article, we will delve into the various types of damages associated with copyright infringement and the intricacies of calculating and pursuing compensation under federal copyright law.

When faced with a copyright infringement notice, comprehending the potential damages at stake is crucial for individuals and companies alike. Conversely, if you discover that your copyrighted work has been unlawfully used, it’s essential to be aware of the damages you can seek as a result of the infringement.

Under the Copyright Act of 1976, federal law governs the measurement of copyright infringement damages. These damages can take various forms, including actual damages, profits of the infringer, and statutory damages. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore each type of damage and the intricacies involved in calculating and pursuing compensation under copyright law.

1. Actual Damages – Quantifying Financial Losses:

Actual damages refer to the measurable financial losses incurred by the copyright owner due to the infringement. These losses encompass several elements, including:

  • Lost Sales: This entails the revenue that the copyright owner would have earned from legitimate sales if the infringement had not occurred. It includes the actual sales figures lost due to the unauthorized use of their work.
  • Lost Profits: Beyond lost sales, this category covers the profits that the copyright owner would have generated from the authorized use of the copyrighted work. It considers the potential income disrupted by the infringement.
  • Lost Licensing Revenue: Copyright owners often generate income by licensing their work to others for various purposes. Infringement may result in lost licensing opportunities and the associated revenue.

While the concept of actual damages is straightforward, determining them can be challenging. These damages must be based on concrete and measurable figures; mere estimations or speculative calculations won’t suffice. Establishing actual damages often involves the following challenges:

  • Demonstrating Sales Decline: To establish actual damages, the copyright owner may attempt to demonstrate that sales of the copyrighted work declined immediately following the infringement by a demonstrable amount. This requires careful tracking of sales data.
  • Proving Causation: It’s crucial to establish a clear causal link between the infringement and the decline in sales or revenue. This can be complex, as multiple factors may contribute to changes in sales figures. Consequently, expert witness testimony is often necessary to clarify and substantiate the damages.

2. Profits of the Infringer – Disgorging Wrongful Gains:

In addition to actual damages, copyright owners have the option to seek the profits earned by the infringer from the unauthorized use of the copyrighted work. This principle is rooted in the idea that the infringer should not be allowed to benefit financially from their wrongful actions.

It’s important to note that profits of the infringer are awarded only if they exceed the actual damages resulting from the infringement. Calculating these damages can be intricate and may require the expertise of financial professionals and expert witnesses.

3. Statutory Damages – A Legal Remedy with Set Amounts:

The Copyright Act provides copyright owners with an alternative to proving actual damages and infringer’s profits—statutory damages. These damages are predetermined amounts specified in the Copyright Act and can be awarded by a judge or jury. Given the complexities involved in proving actual damages and infringer’s profits, copyright owners often turn to statutory damages to recover their losses.

However, statutory damages are not available in all circumstances. They are not applicable to:

  1. Infringement of an unpublished work commenced before its effective registration date.
  2. Infringement of copyright initiated after the first publication of the work and before its effective registration date, unless registered within three months after the first publication.

Registering a work is not only essential for initiating a copyright infringement lawsuit but also for ensuring statutory damages are available as a remedy.

Statutory damages are outlined in the Copyright Act as follows:

  • For each copyrighted work infringed upon, the range is $750 to $30,000 per work.
  • Increased statutory damages of up to $150,000 per copyrighted work infringed upon if the infringement is deemed willful.
  • If the infringer was unaware and had no reason to believe their actions constituted copyright infringement, the court may reduce statutory damages to as little as $200.

These amounts are assigned per copyrighted work, not per individual copy sold, and the specific amount is determined by the judge or jury. In copyright litigation, whether the infringement is willful often becomes a critical point of contention.

Understanding the intricate landscape of copyright infringement damages is crucial for both copyright owners and accused parties. This understanding allows you to assess potential exposure or entitlement to compensation accurately. If you find yourself in a copyright infringement situation, whether as a copyright owner seeking restitution or an accused party defending against allegations, seeking legal counsel is advisable.

Copyright infringement cases are inherently complex, involving multifaceted considerations and nuances in the law. Expert legal guidance can be invaluable in navigating these complexities, ensuring that your rights are protected, and that you receive the appropriate compensation or defense in your copyright dispute.