THE ANNALS OF COPYRIGHT NUMBER 3 « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


What Is Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement has two sides: a) protecting your own copyrighted material and b) avoiding violations of another’s copyrighted work.

The U.S. Copyright Act, section 106, gives a copyright owner exclusive rights to the control of an original work, including reproducing it, publicly displaying it, publicly performing it, making derivative works, and selling, leasing or licensing it to others. Infringement occurs when someone uses another’s work or part of it in these and other ways without the owner’s permission.

To prove copyright infringement, in the simplest terms, the owner must show that he or she owns the copyright to the work in question and that the infringing item is a copy of the original. Copy does not necessarily mean an exact duplicate. The owner can prove this element by showing that the “copy” is substantially similar to the owner’s original and that the infringer had access to the original. If the alleged infringer came up with the same idea independently and created a similar work without any access to that original, there may not be an infringement.

Sometimes the analysis is simple. For example, if you wrote a book, another’s publication of the identical text under a different name and cover would clearly be copyright infringement. Unauthorized use of another’s original photo for the cover of a music album or a secret video recording from the audience of a first run movie for production of pirated DVDs are also examples.

The situation may be less than clear-cut if, for instance, you and another happen to each write original music which sounds similar for a few notes or bars. Two individuals painting the same landscape with similarities in treatment may also be possible trouble, but then again, may not. For some real-life close-calls, see the blog “5 famous copyright infringement cases (and what you can learn).”

The livelihoods of copyright lawyers depend on accurately analyzing such scenarios. However, while an experienced practitioner can and will offer his or her perception of whether similar works present a potential infringement, experts inevitably will differ in more complex cases.

If is of course far preferable to consult a copyright attorney over potential infringements before any “cease and desist” letter or, worse, a lawsuit arises from another copyright holder. If you need help with such issues, you can contact our Of Counsel attorney, Helena Kobrin.

Related articles: The Annals of Copyright Number 1, When in Doubt, Choose Contract Over Lunch (on the importance of written agreements for the use of copyrighted material) and The Annals of Copyright Number 2, You May Have a Copyrighted Work and Don’t Know It (on the definition of a copyrighted work).