Copyright Violation Laws

The Copyright Act has strict guidelines for copyright violations. In fact, 17 U.S.C. §§ 501, et seq. outlines the rules and regulations. Copyright protection is granted by the federal Constitution and related laws for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. It covers published and unpublished works. It protects original works of authorship for literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works like poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.

Copyright registration is not mandatory because copyright exists from the moment the work is created by its owner. However, the copyright owner must register the work if he/she seeks to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement. A registered work can be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in litigation. Also, if registration occurs within five years of the publication, it is considered as “prima facie evidence” in a court of law.

What are the Relevant Laws and Remedies?

17 U.S.C. § 502 outlines the remedies which include injunctions. It states that a court with proper jurisdiction (i.e., a judge who has authority over the case/parties) can grant an injunction in order to prevent the copyright violation. The court order – i.e., injunction – can be served on the defendant and will be enforced by the court.

17 U.S.C. § 503 outlines the impounding and disposition of infringing articles procedures. It states that the court has discretion to order the impounding of all copies or phonorecords that were made or used in violation of the copyright owner’s exclusive right. Moreover, the court has the authority to enter a protective order on the discovery and use of the impounded records or information.

17 U.S.C. § 504 outlines the remedies which include damages and profits. It states that the copyright infringer is liable for: (1) the copyright owner’s actual damages and the infringer’s additional profits, if any; or (2) statutory damages. Therefore, the copyright owner may be able to recover actual damages and the reimbursement of any profits that were obtained by the copyright infringer and not taken into account in calculating the actual damages. Also, the copyright owner can choose to recover statutory damages instead of actual damages and profits for a certain sum.

17 U.S.C. § 505 outlines the remedies for infringement which include costs and attorney’s fees. In short, it says that the court has the power and authority to grant costs and attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in a civil action.

17 U.S.C. § 506 outlines the applicable criminal offenses. It says that a person who intentionally violates a copyright will be criminally punished if the violation was committed: (1) for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain; (2) by the reproduction or distribution during a 180-day period of one or more copies of 1 or more copyrighted work with the value of more than $1000; or (3) by distributing the copyrighted work that was being prepared for commercial distribution if he/she knew or should have known that the copyrighted work was designed for commercial distribution.

17 U.S.C. § 507 outlines the statute of limitations on copyright violations. It provides a 5-year statute of limitation for criminal proceedings and a 3-year statute of limitation for civil actions. In some cases, there may be exceptions to the deadlines, but it’s very important to take immediate action if there is any reason to believe someone has violated your copyrights.

17 U.S.C. § 508 describes the notification of filing and determination of actions process. It states that – within one month after the lawsuit is filed in court – the clerk must send written notification to the Register of Copyrights regarding the interested parties’ names, addresses, titles, authors, and copyrighted work’s registration numbers. The clerk must send a copy of the court’s final order or judgment. Also, the Register of Copyrights should make that information a part of the public records of the Copyright Office after receiving the notices.

17 U.S.C. § 512 outlines the liability limitations related to online material. It states that online service providers are not generally liable for transmitting copyrighted material. There are certain exceptions which are listed in the statute’s subsections that allow the courts to issue injunctions against the online service providers. For example, an injunction can be issued to restrain the online service provider from providing access to the infringing material or activity residing on its computer network system.

In recent years, social media platforms have disrupted internet copyright laws especially in the context of embedding tweets in news articles and avoiding the payment of license fees. See Goldman v. Breitbart News Network, LLC for more information.

Finally, any kind of copyrighted work that is published on the internet is protected by copyright laws. So, the law applies to any kind of online material (e.g., e-books, movies, music) just like it would to offline material as long as the prerequisites for copyright protection are satisfied.