Court Awards Maximum Statutory Damages for Copyright Infringement

Black Cats - Copyright Carolyn E. Wright

Courts are not letting infringers run or hide these days. Such was the case in Washington last week.

Getty sued a Florida couple for using 12 of Getty’s photographs of cats and dogs for their home-based website design company. The defendants design websites for veterinarians and veterinary clinics, doing business as “Vet Web Designers.”

Because the defendants failed to defend the case after a point, the court entered a default judgment. As liability was now established, the court moved to the damages stage. The court awarded $21,433.00 in actual damages for defendants’ infringing ten images that were not timely registered. After an evidentiary hearing, the court also awarded Getty $300,000.00 for the defendants’ willful infringement of two images. The court found:

The [defendants] infringed Getty’s copyrights with the knowledge that they were doing so, and saved expenses and generated profit through their infringing use. The [defendants’] actions also cost Getty revenue it otherwise would have received had the two rights-managed images been properly licensed to maintain their exclusivity. Further, an award of maximum statutory damages in this case will serve to protect the copyright system from flagrant violation of the law.

The court looked at four factors to determine the appropriate amount of statutory damages: (1) the infringer’s profits and expenses saved because of the infringement; (2) the plaintiff’s lost revenues; (3) the strong public interest in ensuring the integrity of copyright laws; and (4) whether the infringer acted willfully. While the first two factors did not support an award for maximum damages, the last two did. Specifically, the court explained:

The [defendants] similarly gained commercial advantage by using Getty’s copyrighted works on their websites, engaged in deception by using fictitious names, and failed to participate beyond limited discovery early in the case.

[In addition], the defendants failed to end their infringement despite repeated notifications of their infringing use and opportunities to settle the matter swiftly with Getty. . . . Getty first informed the defendants of their infringing activity in 2007, but they continued to infringe images licensed exclusively to Getty, even after the lawsuit was instituted in 2013. 

The court also issued a permanent injunction to prevent the defendants from infringing Getty’s copyrights.

The Court’s Order is full of reasons why people shouldn’t infringe and should take copyrights seriously. With a few more of these cases, maybe infringers will learn that a license is the easy way.

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