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Copyright Infringement Cases Can Teach Us To Obey Copyright Laws

Copyright infringement cases can be both costly and time consuming. Considering copyright infringement is something that isn’t as easily defined as theft or speeding, there are numerous copyright infringement cases changing the way copyright law is viewed in the U.S. By reviewing a few of these copyright infringement cases, you can get a better idea of what is, and what is not, acceptable use of copyrighted works.

As a forward, however, you’ll need to know something about copyright law. Most copyright lawsuits are brought to the courts because a copyright owner has found their copyright is being used outside the copyright laws. This usually means the copyright holder hadn’t been asked for permission to use the work; or if they had, the work is not being used in an agreed-upon context or they have not been paid royalties. The copyright infringement cases, listed below, sample of what goes to the Supreme Court in copyright infringement.

Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service Co (6th Cir. 1996)

This copyright infringement case was brought to the Supreme Court in 1996 regarding the copyright of a database. The Supreme Court, in this instance, decided that compilations of data (such as in a database) are only protected by copyright when they are “arranged and selected in an original manner.” Although the level of originality needed to make the database copyright-able is not very high, the pages of a directory (such as a phone book) are not protected because the data contained therein is arranged geographically, then alphabetically. Because of this, the data was not original enough to warrant a copyright infringement charge. The competing telephone company was allowed to tap into their competitors’ database and use that data in their own work without liability.

Princeton University Press v. Michigan Document Services, Inc (6th Cir 1996)

This case has to do with the Fair Use law, which is defined in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107. In this case, a photocopying service was sued for copyright infringement for making “course packs” for the University of Michigan. In this case, a course pack was a group of reading materials assigned by a professor -- then the course pack was bound together by a professional copy shop.

In the Fair Use system, there is a system available for payment of copyright fees to publishers whose works are used in course materials. The printing shop owner refused to pay the copyright cost. When it went to the Supreme Court, they analyzed the Fair Use code and found that it was NOT Fair Use, and the printing shop had to pay the copyright costs.

As you can see, copyright infringement cases are cases in which someone violates the rights of a copyright owner, as provided by 17 USC §106, or of the author as provided in §106A. These copyright infringement cases can be taken to either criminal or civil court, and can carry with it a hefty fine.

Copyright infringement cases are brought upon people who violate copyrights every day. In recent times, you’ll find many copyright cases in relation to electronic copyrights -- such as those you’d find on a website or PDF file, as well as other digital media such as music and audio files.

It’s probable that you’ve seen copyright cases brought against the common person -- such as a child or family -- for downloading digital music in the form of MP3s. In the current Internet age, it’s not surprising to see so many music and video copyright cases brought to us because of peer to peer file sharing made possible by the Internet. You can be certain that until people know the rules of copyright, and downloading copyrighted material from the Internet, we’ll see many more copyright cases.

Submitted by:

Brian Scott

Brian Scott is a freelance journalist who covers copyright law for www.ResearchCopyright.com. Download his free e-book, "Copyright Basics" at ResearchCopyright.com.




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