What to Know Before Filing a Copyright Infringement Lawsuit in California

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Copyright law in California gives the owner many explicit rights related to their intellectual property. If intellectual property is used without permission from the copyright owner, it is considered copyright violation or copyright infringement. Generally, the rights ensured by copyright laws include:

  •       Right of Reproduction: The owner of the work retains the right to reproduce the work in any desired form. An example of copyright infringement here would be painting a copy of original work and selling it for profit.
  •       Right of Distribution: The owner of the work retains the right to distribute the work by leasing it, selling it, lending it, or displaying it in public. An example of this form of copyright infringement would be selling unlicensed copies of a movie.
  •       Right to Derivative Works: The owner of the work retains the right to modify it or create a new project based on the work. An example of this copyright infringement would be producing a film based on a book without getting the author’s permission.
  •       Right of Public Display: The owner of the work retains the right to show the work or a copy of it to the public directly, whether it is played in a theater, over internet broadcast, or other means of public display. An example of copyright infringement of this type would be uploading a movie on the internet without the express consent of the copyright owner.
  •       Right of Public Performance: The owner of the work retains the right to play, dance, recite, or act out the work. Producing a play that is written by someone else without getting their permission would infringe on their right of public performance.

Note that there are a number of limitations and exceptions to the above-mentioned rights. Anyone can use the work of another individual as long as it falls under the Fair Use clause of copyright law. In addition, works in the public domain are not covered by copyright protection.

Damages in Copyright Infringement Lawsuits

Typically, copyright owners demand the removal or destruction of the illegally acquired or copied work. The plaintiff can also claim damages in a  copyright infringement lawsuit. The below penalties are some of the most common results of a ruling against an individual who has violated exclusive copyright.

  •       Pecuniary damages for copyright infringement, which could range from $200 to $150,000
  •       Returning all profits that the individual made off the infringed work
  •       Compensation of legal fees and court expenses incurred from pursuing the copyright claim
  •       A ban on recreation and further use of the infringed work
  •       Seizure of all productions of the infringed work
  •       Prison time for the offending individual, although such a sentence is usually only given in cases of extreme copyright infringement

You can consult with your intellectual property lawyer to determine which penalties and damages you want to pursue. In most cases, you would be eligible to directly issue a cease and desist notice to force the individual infringing your work to take down or destroy the material that was used without your consent.

Filing Copyright Infringement Lawsuits

It should be noted that you have to register your work with the US Copyright Office to be eligible to file a copyright infringement lawsuit. Even if you have not registered your work, you may still own the rights, but you would not be eligible to pursue the case in a California court to enforce your ownership. Note that you cannot register intellectual property for copyright that you have created under a “work for hire” contract by an employer either. Therefore, it is very important to consult with an intellectual property lawyer to understand what rights to your work you have before considering a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Pursuing a formal copyright infringement lawsuit can be a time-consuming and expensive process. That is why most California lawyers recommend considering the available alternatives to litigation, such as directly negotiating with the individual or company that illegally acquired or copied your work. Your lawyer can help you calculate a reasonable compensation amount for your losses and negotiate with the other party to come to a fair settlement. This can be much simpler than filing the case in a federal court, and will also leave you on better terms with the other party.

If you’re familiar with the person violating your copyright, you can reach a favorable agreement and resolve the matter easily by arranging an informal meeting. Even if you do not know the violator personally, you can send them a formal demand letter with the help of your lawyer and explain the rights you hold related to your work. You can also schedule a meeting with the person to discuss a resolution. However, if the negotiations do not go well, or if the infringer refuses to pay the owed compensation amount for your losses, then you will likely have to take the case to court for adjudication.

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