Copyright Litigation 101

Our attorneys have advocated the interests of our clients in a wide array of copyright litigation, ranging from cutting-edge cases regarding the application of copyright law to new technology, such as computer software and the Internet, to cases in the more traditional areas of films, books, musical recordings, artistic creations and the decorative aspects of articles such as jewelry, consumer products and figurines. The wide experience of our attorneys with the technicalities of copyright law, as it applies both to new technologies and traditional media, enables us to proceed with assurance and efficiency in copyright litigation, where we aggressively pursue outcomes favorable to our clients’ positions.

Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over copyright infringement claims. Hence a copyright holder who believes that another party is infringing its copyright may bring suit in a federal district court having jurisdiction over the parties. Either party may demand a jury, or the case may be tried to the judge if both parties waive their jury rights.

Copyright infringement litigation requires application of complex technical rules to the dispute at hand and may have additional layers of complexity due to the technology involved, for example, in cases involving computer software code or electronic data transmission. Hence copyright infringement litigation is likely to involve considerable expense and to take a significant period of time through trial. On the other hand, copyright infringement cases often provide circumstances suitable for seeking temporary or preliminary injunctive relief, which is specifically authorized by the copyright statute. Under some circumstances, the ruling on the motion for a preliminary injunction will put the case into posture for settlement.

A fully-litigated case will go through a discovery phase in which the parties exchange written information and documents, a deposition phase in which the testimony of key witnesses is taken, and an expert witness phase in which the experts provide reports and give deposition testimony. Thereafter, unless the case is decided on a dispositive motion, it proceeds to trial.

The copyright infringement plaintiff in general must prove copying of the copyrighted work by the defendant. Typically this is done by showing that defendant had access to the copyrighted work and that the defendant’s work is substantially similar to the plaintiff’s work. Independent creation by the defendant is a defense. Various other defenses may also be available to defendant, including fair use, abandonment, and copyright misuse.

The prevailing copyright infringement plaintiff may elect statutory damages of up to $30,000, or up to $150,000 in the case of willful infringement, or actual damages and defendant’s profits attributable to the infringement. The plaintiff may also recover reasonable attorneys’ fees in the court’s discretion.

The successful handling of copyright infringement litigation requires a detailed knowledge of the technicalities of the copyright statute, appreciation of the underlying technology, and expertise in litigation strategy, rules of evidence and trial presentation techniques. Our attorneys combine these attributes to maximize the prospects for a favorable outcome for our clients and have been able to achieve remarkable success.

If you would like further information concerning copyright infringement litigation, or would like to discuss a copyright matter, please contact an attorney in our Litigation Practice Group.