How much are statutory damages in a copyright case?

lawbooksCC0Statutory damages are only available if the copyright owner registered the copyright before the infringement or within the three-month grace period after publication. [1]

Provided the above requirement is met, the copyright owner may choose to receive statutory damages rather than actual damages and profits. Actual damages are the copyright owner’s losses and profits are what the infringer gained from the infringement. If actual damages and profits are relatively small or difficult to prove, then statutory damages may be a wise choice.

Statutory damages are a minimum of $750 and a maximum of $30,000, per work infringed upon. If there are multiple defendants, the amount is not multiplied, but the defendants are jointly and severally liable for the amount. For willful infringement, the maximum can be increased to $150,000. For “innocent” infringement (i.e. the infringer proves they were not aware of the infringement and had no reason to believe that their acts were infringement), the minimum can be reduced to $200. [2]

Within the range stated above, the amount of the statutory damages is at the discretion of the court, and amounts actually awarded vary widely. Factors that are usually considered include the blameworthiness of the defendant, revenues lost by the plaintiff, profits reaped by the defendant, and the deterrent effect on the defendant and others. [3] The litigants usually have the right to have the amount decided by a jury rather than the judge. [4]

  1. 17 U.S.C. § 412.
  2. 17 U.S.C. § 504.
  3. E.g., Fitzgerald Publishing Co Inc v. Baylor Publishing Co Inc, 807 F.2d 1110, 1117 (2d Cir. 1986).
  4. Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television Inc., 523 U.S. 340.

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