Original creative works can provide valuable revenue streams to their authors. That’s one reason that copyright can be used to protect original works in certain tangible mediums (e.g., movies, books, photographs, and computer software) against unauthorized use. Unfortunately, copyright trolls often attempt to take advantage of the law by pressuring others into cash settlements. When this happens, the party on the receiving end of a copyright demand letter will need to respond immediately – or risk a costly lawsuit. The experienced Los Angeles copyright lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP can help you mount a strong and vigorous copyright defense.
To learn more about the 5 best defenses against copyright infringement claims, keep reading this blog.
Responding to DMCA Notices from Copyright Trolls
A lot of copyright infringement claims are brought by copyright trolls. These are people who strategically sue individuals and businesses with the goal of pressuring the defendant into quickly settling the case in order to avoid expensive litigation. For example, a copyright troll might send a DMCA notice to a website owner or social media influencer alleging that they violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by publishing an unauthorized reproduction of an image, video, or text.
Whether it’s a copyright troll, or perhaps someone with more merit bringing a copyright or other type of intellectual property claim against you, most claims will start with a copyright infringement letter or takedown notice. How you respond to the initial claim will likely determine the next steps, which could include negotiating a settlement with the other party or contesting the copyright claim in federal court.
What Are the Most Common Defenses Available in Copyright Infringement Cases?
If the case does go beyond settlement negotiations and eventually reaches the litigation stage, it may be necessary to raise a strong defense at trial. These are some of the most common defenses available in copyright infringement disputes:
Defense #1: There is no substantial similarity between the original work and the new work.
One of the main tests used by courts to determine whether copyright infringement has occurred is the substantial similarity test. A work can only be found to have exploited another work’s copyright if both works are “substantially similar.” This means that, despite any superficial similarities, the two works are so strikingly similar that the second work could only have been copied from the first work.
Defense #2: Use of the work was licensed.
Even if you did not create the original work in question, you may still have a right to use, distribute, reproduce, or perform that work if you secured a copyright licensing agreement. Depending on the terms of the IP transfer, the licensed use might not have constituted an infringement of the copyright.
Defense #3: The fair use doctrine applies.
The Copyright Law of the United States explicitly provides for exceptions when copyrighted material is being used for certain purposes, such as news reporting, research, scholarship, commentary, and criticism. Courts use a balancing test to determine whether a particular use of the work constitutes a “fair use”:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is for commercial purposes.
- The nature of the copyrighted work, such as whether the work has already been in the public domain or whether there is a public interest in ensuring that the work is available to everyone.
- The amount or substantiality of the portion used, such as when a website quotes a few sentences from a much longer publication.
- The effect of the particular use on the work’s value.
Judges typically determine whether a specific use constitutes “fair use” by looking closely at the precise facts and circumstances of the individual case. The reality is that two similar uses of an identical work could yield entirely different results in court. That’s why it is crucial for anyone looking to raise this defense in a copyright infringement lawsuit to have an experienced copyright attorney on their side.
Defense #4: The plaintiff does not own the copyright.
In order to sue for damages, the copyright troll must be the “owner” or “exclusive licensee” of the copyrighted work. Often, copyright trolls send letters demanding money (and sometimes file lawsuits) when they are not the owner or the exclusive licensee. Tauler Smith LLP has won copyright cases on this basis, and the knowledgeable L.A. copyright lawyers at Tauler Smith can get to the bottom of who owns the images in question.
Defense #5: The statute of limitations has expired.
The statute of limitations in most copyright infringement claims is three (3) years. However, there is some question as to when the clock starts ticking on the statute of limitations. For instance, courts have held that the statute of limitations restarts after each new violation, meaning that a copyright owner could delay filing suit as long as they are only pursuing damages from the last three (3) years. Additionally, most courts have ruled that a copyright owner must first discover the violation before the statute of limitations begins to run.
Contact the Los Angeles Copyright Lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP Today
The damages in a copyright infringement lawsuit could be substantial, which is why you need to act immediately when you are first notified of an alleged violation. Your first step should be to speak with one of the Los Angeles copyright lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP. Our legal team has experience responding to copyright claims on behalf of our clients and protecting them against copyright trolls.