How to File a Copyright Lawsuit for Infringement
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Creating an original work of art takes time, creativity, and skill.
So, after you pour your creativity and effort into creating an original work, it can be heartbreaking to see someone else just using it. All you have to know is how to file a copyright lawsuit for infringement, and as a copyright owner, you can seek legal remedy for someone else using your intellectual property.
Trademark law protects all kinds of intellectual property. Trademarks protect brands, designs, logos, and slogans. Patents protect inventions and concepts. Finally, copyright protection applies to all original creative works.
To understand precisely how to claim your legal right over an original work, let's dive into everything copyright.
What is copyright?
The United States Copyright Law defines copyright as “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”
This means any published or unpublished work you create is eligible to be protected by copyright. This protection extends across artistic, dramatic, literary, and musical works. So you can copyright novels, songs, computer programs or software, poetry, movies, and architecture.
A copyright gives you exclusive rights over what you've created and protects you from any infringement.
What is copyright infringement?
Let's say you've written a book. If you register it with the US Copyright Office, you're the only person with rights over it. If someone wants to publish it, a studio wants to make a movie about it, or anyone wants to use parts of it for their own work, they need your express permission.
If anyone tries to use your work without your permission, you can sue them for copyright infringement in a federal court, but only if it's registered.
In general, copyright automatically exists for an original work if you can prove you created it.
Usually, this is possible if it's in some tangible form, like a manuscript or a video. However, remember that although it's not mandatory to register a work, as per copyright law, you can only file a copyright lawsuit if it's registered.
There are two main types of copyright infringement:
- Direct copyright infringement: This is when another person or party uses your work without your permission. You can file a lawsuit against them; this kind of infringement is easier to prove.
- Secondary copyright infringement: This means that someone didn't directly misuse your copyrighted work but enabled them to do so. For instance, aggregators or publishers could be held liable for giving a platform to the infringer. Such copyright infringement claims are usually a little more challenging to prove.
How to file a copyright infringement lawsuit
As a copyright owner, you can file a copyright infringement lawsuit against anyone infringing on your IP.
Here are the steps copyright owners can follow to file a copyright complaint or lawsuit:
1. Confirm that you have a valid copyright
The first thing you need to check before filing a copyright infringement lawsuit is that you have valid and enforceable copyright protection. This means your copyright needs to be registered with the US Copyright Office. According to the Copyright Act, even if your work is authentic and original, you must have a federal copyright registration to file a lawsuit for infringement.
2. Evaluate your case and establish infringement
Once you've checked the validity of your legal rights, the next step is to establish that you have a strong case. You'll need to first check that you didn't give permission to use the work, even inadvertently. For instance, did you accept terms and conditions on a website without reading the fine print that gave the infringer permission to use your work?
If not, do you have evidence of the infringement? Collect evidence of the infringement and identify the alleged infringer you want to sue. We recommend hiring an IP attorney to help you thoroughly and objectively evaluate your case.
This is necessary because if you don't have a valid case, there's no point in wasting time and money on attorney fees and filing fees. It's better to ascertain your chances right at the beginning.
3. Identify the correct court to file your lawsuit
If you decide to proceed with your lawsuit, you must navigate the legal route. Copyright infringement cases are usually filed in a federal court. But since 2020, the Copyright Office has established the Copyright Claims Board (CCB).
This three-member tribunal has the authority to resolve copyright disputes involving claims up to $30,000.
Once you've analyzed your case, you'll get an idea of how serious the infringement is. This will help you estimate how much you can or should realistically claim as damages in your lawsuit.
4. File your lawsuit
At this point, it's highly recommended that you hire an attorney. You'll need some assistance with submitting your claim in the federal district court or even with the CCB. The legal process can often involve a lot of paperwork, so legal expertise would be helpful.
Copyright cases can sometimes be very complex and can even end up in the Supreme Court. In such cases, you'll need to hire law firms specializing in IP law.
Is a copyright lawsuit worth it?
As a copyright owner, only you can answer this question. Copyright protection exists to ensure that your creativity is not exploited. So, if you think your work has been misused, you have to decide how much damage that caused you.
Suppose you think the damage was minor or the infringement was unintentional. In that case, you can try to negotiate an agreement or settlement with the alleged infringer. Filing a lawsuit involves more time, effort, and resources, so it's advisable to take legal action only if the damages or infringement are significant or you have a solid case.
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Amrusha is a versatile professional with over 12 years of experience in journalism, broadcast news production, and media consulting. Her impressive career includes collaborating extensively with prominent global enterprises. She garnered recognition for her exceptional work in producing acclaimed shows for Bloomberg, a renowned business news network. Notably, these shows have been incorporated into the esteemed curriculum of Harvard Business School. Amrusha's expertise also encompassed a 4-year tenure as a consultant at Omidyar Network, a leading global impact investing firm. In addition, she played a pivotal role in the launch and content strategy management of the startup Live History India.
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