Copyright Registration Benefits: A Tale of Two Cases

I go on and on about copyright registration and copyright registration benefits. I write about it a lot and I am always haranguing my clients to do it. That’s because I think it’s important and it’s one of the easiest things that you can do to enforce your rights if you get ripped off or if your work gets copied by someone it shouldn’t be copied by. There are a few reasons why you want to do register your copyrights, but the idea might best be illustrated by a set of tales.

Copyright Registration Benefits: A Tale of Two Cases

Case One: Larry¬†makes a painting. People like the painting. A retailer decides to make posters of Larry’s painting, maybe changing the color a little bit or adding some text. Doesn’t ask Larry. Larry finds out, and of course, wants to sue. Larry calls an attorney. The attorney asks Larry if he registered the copyright. Larry says no. The lawyer mumbles something about needing a pretty good amount of money up front before agreeing to take on the case. Larry doesn’t have that amount of money, so doesn’t sue the retailer.

Case Two: Susan makes a painting. People like the painting. A retailer decides to make posters of Susan’s painting, maybe changing the color a little bit or adding some text. Doesn’t ask Susan. Susan finds out, and not surprisingly, wants to sue. Susan calls an attorney. The attorney asks Susan if she registered the copyright. Susan says yes. The lawyer looks thrilled and talks about drafting up a retainer agreement.

What’s the difference between Case One and Case Two? It’s the copyright registration, but you probably already caught that.

Now, having a copyright registration is not the be-all and end-all of a good copyright infringement lawsuit, but certain copyright registration benefits take an alright case and turn it into one that a lawyer would be comfortable taking on.

Chief among the copyright registration benefits: statutory damages. Sounds technical, but let’s break it down. The copyright law provides that if a copyright is registered, you get damages set by law. Up to $30,000 if the infringement wasn’t “willful” and up to $150,000 if it was. If you don’t have a registration, you can only get “actual damages” – that means you have to prove the damages in court (these damages are based on either lost profits or ill-gotten gains) and in some cases, the damages might not be easily determined or so low that the case might not be worth bringing (but if you find out the actual damages are high, you can still opt to sue for that).. The statutory damages’ solid numbers bring a little certainty to equation – and that is often enough to bring the infringer to a settlement. Either way, lawyers like that.

And because lawyers like that, they are more likely to take your case on contingency (this is where the attorney doesn’t charge up front, but takes a percentage of the winnings) ¬†since there is a clearer basis for damages and a more predictable outcome.

Second among the copyright registration benefits: attorneys’ fees. Copyright litigation can get really expensive, quickly. If you are not doing the case on contingency, it’s nice to know that you might be able to get the infringer to pay your lawyer’s bills, on top of any other damages. Even if the case is on contingency, the other side might be more motivated to settle early rather than rack up attorney fees that they would ultimately have to pay for.

So you can see that these two copyright registration benefits are often enough to change the game in your favor, should somebody infringe upon your work. It’s also important to note that timely filing of a copyright registration is very important here, as well; you ideally want to have the work registered before it is published (or really soon after). If not, some of these benefits are harder to get.

This is why I am a zealot about copyright registration. I tell many of my clients to regularly (quarterly seems like a good choice for many) register either single copyrights or collections of copyrights because I want them t0 have every advantage should something untoward happen.