Copyright Infringement [2020 guide]

Copyright infringement occurs when any of the exclusive rights vested to the author of the original work is exploited without the owner’s permission.

Why it matters

You might fall into one of these 2 cases:

  1. If someone infringed your work, you can get it fixed and get compensation for the harm done.

  2. On the other hand, if you or your client is potentially infringing copyrights, you must take action too.

From poems, written stories, songs, choreography to photography, or any form of artwork and some intellectual works, the creations are automatically protected by copyright law.

This means the original author, creator, or artist of the creation has the sole right to:

  • duplicate his work,
  • distribute it,
  • modify it,
  • or create adaptations of it.

Copyright infringement is the use or production of copyrighted material without the necessary permissions from the copyright holder.

Do you have the required legal permissions from the work owner before using or reproducing it?

If not, then you are liable for copyright infringement.

This may lead the owner to sue or fine you for violating the copyrights act’s provisions.

What is copyright infringement?

When one violates someone’s Intellectual Property (I.P.), it is a copyright infringement.

Infringement of copyrights is indulging in piracy or stealing someone’s original creation, especially when the one who stole reaps the benefits while the original creator receives none.

Do you want to understand what copyright infringement exactly means? You first need to understand the provisions of copyright law.

Copyright law offers the original author with certain rights.

However, there are exceptions: with the author’s necessary permissions, you can possibly engage in copying and distributing the author’s original work without violating or being involved in infringing

Copyright and its purpose:

The purpose of copyright is to provide the authors with the incentive and rewards for sharing their original creation.

Authors gain incentives from their copyrighted material.

Copyright protected works:

A work is copyright-protected as soon as the original author puts it in a tangible medium.

As soon as the work exists physically, the creation is copyright protected. The works commonly protected by copyright throughout the world include:

  • Literary works like novels, plays, newspaper articles, etc.
  • Computer programs, databases;
  • Films, music, choreography;
  • Artistic works like paintings, drawings, photographs, etc.
  • Architecture, and
  • Ads, maps, technical drawings

The works transferred and shared over the internet are also covered by copyright protection.

Therefore, do not believe that if a work is available on the internet, then it is available for free use.

People who try to copy, distribute, download, or gain financial advantage from a copyrighted material online can be charged with copyright infringement.

Work without copyright protection:

Copyright does not protect every type of work.

The following ones can be patented or trademarked, not copyrighted:

  • Familiar symbols and designs
  • Variations of typography, lettering, coloring
  • Ingredients

Copyright Infringement Issues:

The number of copyright infringement issues increased with technology advances.

Some of these issues include the ever-evolving technological field, which led to an increase in copyright infringements as it became easy for people to steal someone else’s work.

As more companies began to capitalize on someone else’s original work, the Copyright Modernization Office was set up by the Copyright Office with an intention to better align the standards according to modern technology.

However, people’s high reliance on the internet is creating new issues for copyright holders where the pace of the evolving technology is outrunning the regulatory’s pace to set up new rules, thereby failing to establish new copyrights applying to new formats.

Evolutions in the domain of photography and other forms of digital imagery also facilitated copying someone else’s images. Issues about copyright infringement from photographers and graphics have grown too over the years.

A global world

Since every country has its own copyright law, it becomes difficult to claim ownership of copyright internationally.

Therefore, countries ratified international treaties and organizations like the European Union to govern the laws internationally and implement strict guidelines.

Also, some of the copyright infringements can often cause damages that cannot be measured monetarily.

It is the right of an author to be established as the owner of his/her work, and the right to attribution covers it. The author’s original work is protected from being duplicated or changed with the right of integrity.

Copyright infringement penalties:

Exploiting the rights of copyright without the owner’s permission leads to infringement of copyrights.

When the original owner of the work raises a copyright infringement lawsuit, he/she should be able to prove the copyright ownership and that the infringer has violated his/her rights.

Copyright infringement damages:

According to the Copyright Act’s 17 U.S. Code § 504, the owner of the original work is liable to recover damages from the infringer - the actual damage caused plus any additional profit acquired by the infringer or statutory damages.

The infringer’s profit can only be confirmed when the copyright holder can present proof of the infringer’s total turnover. The infringer is required to manifest his expenses that factored to making a profit from the copyrighted work.

Instead of claiming the actual damages and profit from the infringer, the copyright owner can elect to claim statutory damages for all the infringements involved.

The infringer(s) are liable to pay a sum of no less than $750 or more than $30,000 as the court considers, as statutory damages as per U.S.’s copyright code.

Was it intentional?

The 17 U.S. Code § 504 also states that if the court finds the infringement to be intentional, then criminal charges can be applied to the infringer.

In this case, the statutory damage awarded can be increased to no more than $150,000. If the infringing is proved to be unintentional, then the damage to be paid can be reduced too.


If someone sues you for copyright infringement, your lawyer can raise these common defenses:

  • The statute of limitations has expired.
  • You had no reason to believe that it was a copyright-protected work.
  • Your infringement is permitted under the fair use policy
  • Your work is your own creation and does not involve copying
  • You have a license to use the work from the copyright owner

Here’s how you can avoid copyright infringement:

Our modern-day technology and easy access make it easy to copy and distribute other people’s original work.

But, the risk of copyright-infringing will not be worth your time, money, sanity, and peace of mind.

Here are some tips you can follow to avoid copyright infringement:

1. Think “copyright-protected”

The hypothesis of “There’s always a copyright” For any work you find, it is always safe to believe that it is protected by copyright.

Even when you cannot find a clear definition mentioning the material’s copyright, there’s still a possibility that someone else owns the work.

However, if you want to make use of someone else’s work, it is safe to get written consent from the copyrighted material owner.

Also, go the extra mile to get in touch with the author: you might get an agreement where you can use his/her work without infringing any copyrights.

2. Do your research

Research before using a work that’s not yours.

There are creators whom you can pay and get access to use his work with the right attributions.

However, if there are no prices or attributions mentioned, there can be some hidden conditions that can be found in the original owner’s official website.

Access the ‘Terms of Use’ page and read it thoroughly and between the lines to get the fine details.

For example, you can rent a movie and watch it. Its ‘Terms of Use’ will clearly state the use of the movie. However, if you engage in replicating the film in your work, you will be liable for copyright infringement. Contact the work owner before you proceed to use his/her work.

3. Don’t rely on fair use

Relying on Fair Use isn’t recommended: The Fair Use Policy states that you can make use of an author’s original work for non-profit ventures.

However, there will always be a question when you use someone else’s work: how will this work impact the original work’s market value?

Therefore, you should always be cautious when it comes to using someone else’s work. Speaking with a legal expert can help you clear any doubts.

4. Think about public domain material

The Public Domain offers you free access to resources that are free-to-use.

You will also be able to find resources with Creative Commons License. This license grants people access to use their creative work under copyright law and make it commercially viable.

5. Be creative

Be creative or pay someone for the original work.

This is the best possible way to avoid copyright infringement.

If you possess the creative skills and you are innovative enough to create your work, then you have the power to come up with your own original work. It’s much better than replicating someone else’s work.

You can also pay other people to create and still be the copyright owner of the work. This is where “works made for hire” under the copyright law is applied.

3 recent examples of copyright infringement

1. Zynn vs TikTok

Following the success of TikTok, an app named Zynn started to make waves on major app stores in May 2020.

The app quickly gained traction as a clone of TikTok and promptly climbed ranks on Google Play and the App Store.

However, the application raised concerns due to:

  • questionable financial practices, which replicated a pyramid scheme
  • and the copied content from other social media sites, including TikTok.

Several TikTok users found their videos on Zynn, often from accounts that impersonated them. This was a blatant issue of copyright infringement.

It first led to the removal of Zynn from Google Play, then from the Apple Store in June 2020.

2.Crystal Clear Media vs major streaming services

A group of major streaming services (like Disney, Netflix, and Paramount) sued Crystal Clear Media’s streaming service for allegedly infringing their copyrights.

Crystal Clear Media was illegally offering copyrighted movies and television programs online. They provided unauthorized access to Hollywood blockbuster movies for a fee. The illegal streaming service offered access to a total of 14,000 movies and over 3000 TV shows. The company was engaged in mass copyright infringement.

3. Internet Archive vs the AAP

As the COVID-19 pandemic grew, Internet Archives (I.A.) launched the National Emergency Library (NEL), aiming to make it easier for users to access digital books and read them during the pandemic.

Previously, there were lending restrictions for the books lent.

According to I.A., the book could only be checked out as many times it was owned. However, those restrictions were lifted later on, meaning any number of users can access a book even when only one copy was actually owned.

The masses initially praised this move.

However, the American Association of Publishers (AAP) and Authors Guild came forward with statements that condemned I.A. to committing copyright infringement under the guise of a library.

Since I.A. was operating largely unrestricted with access to digital copies of books, a lawsuit was filed over its practices.

Be aware of copyright infringements

Copyright deems an author with certain rights for his original work, and copyright infringement occurs when you violate these rights.

If you are a creator, make sure you aren’t violating any copyright laws.

Authors and creators need to understand the copyright laws and rights of original creations to avoid any form of copyright infringement.

We covered a few steps to avoid copyright infringement: they are quite simple and can help you save you ample time, money, and stress.

Original authors – be wary of your rights.

Authors using other people’s work – be wary of the laws and regulations before you reap the benefits of someone else’s work. Identify and protect original works and educate your friends and family about copyright infringement.