Settling Your Copyright Infringement Claim: Specific vs. General Releases


It’s great to settle a copyright infringement claim. You’re finally going to get paid for that unauthorized use. But don’t move too fast. The dispute may not be over.

When settling a copyright infringement claim, many infringers will ask you to sign a written settlement agreement and/or a release. The document usually states the claim that you’ve made, identifies the parties, and tells how much the infringer is going to pay you.

The important part of the document is the release of your claim. In sum, you’re giving up the right to sue the infringer for the copyright infringement in exchange for money or some other consideration. But some infringers will ask you to sign what is known as a “General Release,” which is a release of all claims – and may include claims that you don’t even know about.  The language often looks like this:

Except for the agreements, obligations and covenants arising under this Agreement, [Photographer] releases, remises and forever discharges [Infringer] from any claims, demands, damages, losses, costs, expenses, fees, actions, agreements, promises, debts, causes of action or suits of any kind or nature whatsoever, direct or indirect, known or unknown, suspected or unsuspected, that [Photographer] has, claims to have, or at any time hereafter may have or claim to have against anyone released by this paragraph, by reason of any matter, cause, omission, or commission occurring from the beginning of time to the date of this Agreement.

If you sign this document and the infringer has infringed other of your photographs, has keyed your car, has defamed you, or has done other bad things to you that you may not even  know about, you cannot recover or sue the infringer for any of it. If the infringer is paying you enough money and you’ve done your due diligence as to how the infringer may have otherwise damaged you, then you may agree to sign a General Release. Otherwise, you likely will want to limit the agreement to a Specific Release — that is, a release only for the claim that you have made against the infringer. For example, in the Settlement Agreement and Release available here, the “Claim” is identified as the specific copyright infringement claim made against the infringer for the unauthorized use of your photograph  and the release is limited to claims and damages related to the Claim. That way, if you later find that the infringer also previously infringed another of your photos, then you may make another claim or sue the infringer for the unreleased claim. So, while you may want to quickly endorse that settlement check, don’t be so quick to sign the release that goes with it.

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