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Copyright Law Explained

Copyright Statutory Damages

A copyright owner who prevails in its infringement case and elects to receive statutory damages may be awarded damages in an amount between $750 to $30,000 per work infringed. The amount at which the creator is eligible to receive depends on if the copyright statutory damages were considered innocent or willful infringement. These two infringement types are defined below.

1. Innocent Infringement

If an infringer can show that she was not aware and had no reason to believe that the activity constituted an infringement, the court may find there was an innocent infringement. However, there can be no innocent infringement where the copyrighted work contains a proper copyright notice. A finding of innocent infringement would not excuse the defendant from liability for the infringement, but may result in a reduction in the statutory damages awarded to the copyright owner to a minimum of $200 per work infringed.

2. Willful Infringement

If a copyright owner can show that the infringement was willful, the court may increase statutory damages up to a maximum of $150,000 per work infringed. An infringement may be found to be willful if the infringer had knowledge that the activity constituted infringement or recklessly disregarded the possibility of infringement.

Calculating Statutory Damage Awards

Copyright statutory damages are awarded on a per-work basis, not on the number of infringements. So, for example, if one work was infringed numerous times there would only be one statutory damage award. Conversely, if a defendant were to be found liable for infringing a monthly newsletter over the course of a two-year period, the award would be the amount chosen by the court multiplied by 24 because 24 newsletters, or 24 works, were infringed over the period. Thus, the statutory damage award could be as low as $18,000 (if the court chooses the bottom range of $750) or as high as $720,000 (if the court chooses the upper range of $30,000). Of course, a finding of innocent or willful infringement could reduce or increase these awards as well.

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