A copyright protects “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” It protects the way that ideas, facts and other things are expressed once they are in tangible form. A copyright covers both published and unpublished original works including artistic, dramatic, literary and musical works.

In short, a violation of the exclusive rights of a copyright owner is called infringement. This exclusive rights include the right to display, reproduce, perform or distribute the work. Copyright infringement is usually proven through circumstantial evidence since it’s sometimes hard to provide direct evidence of plagiarism. Two elements must be proven:

  • that there is a substantial similarity between the copy and the original; and

  • that the copier had access to the original

Contributory Infringement

Even if you do not directly infringe a copyright, there are indirect ways of violating another’s exclusive copyright rights. One indirect way is called contributory infringement and it requires only that someone knowingly assist or induce infringing activity. For example, you may not be the person physically copying the original work but if you provide a forum for downloading copyrighted material or post access codes from unauthorized copies of software, you are contributorily infringing.

The owner of a copyright may file an infringement lawsuit in federal court. If the court deems that an infringement has occurred, the plaintiff may be awarded monetary damages of up to $10,000 on top of attorney’s fees, and/or court costs. A willful copyright infringer can face a punishment of up to $10,000 and up to one year imprisonment because it will be considered a federal misdemeanor.

The court may also grant the prevailing plaintiff a preliminary or permanent injunction to have the defendant stop using or producing and infringing the copyrighted material. A preliminary injunction can be granted early to prevent copying during the lawsuit, and if the court finds that there has been infringement, the preliminary injunction can turn into a permanent one.

If you believe you may have a copyright infringement case on your hands, it will be in your best interest to consult with a Copyright Attorney. You will be able to find one right here on UpCounsel.