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Well Known Cases of Copyright Infringement

written by: •edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 3/17/2011

Copyright violations can take you to court, damaging your time, money, and reputation. This article lists some famous copyright infringement cases that shed light on copyrights and "fair use".

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    Copyright Infringement – What is it?

    Copyright Infringement Before discussing some famous copyright infringement cases, let us take a quick look at copyrights and copyright violations. Whenever any intellectual property is created, it is assigned copyright by the federal government so that no one can use it without the permission of the owner of the property. As such, the copyright is automatically assigned to the creator.

    The creator of the intellectual property may later sell the property to someone else. In this case, the new owner has to get the intellectual property copyright registered in his/her name so that no one can use it without his/her permission. If the creator is working with an organization, then the copyright may stay with the creator or owner if that was arranged in their hiring agreement.

    An intellectual property relates to works in the fields of literature, music, drama, paintings etc. In other words, it is related to creativity. There is a difference between copyright and patent. If it is any kind of invention, then you go for a patent.

    Note that patents are not assigned automatically as in case of copyrights.

    Copyright Infringement means using the original piece without the permission of the copyright holder, as such or in parts (without attributing the part to the owner). According to the US copyright laws, one can face heavy penalties in cases of copyright infringement. The infringement may also lead to a jail term or a penalty followed by a jail term.

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    Some Copyright Infringement Cases that are Well Known

    This section lists three famous copyright infringement cases to help give you a clearer understanding of the copyright and copyright infringements.

    Feist Publications vs Rural Tele Services Co (1996)

    Feist Publications came out with a telephone directory that contained peoples' phone numbers arranged in a certain format. The same format was adapted by Rural Tele Services without any changes in their directory. Feist Publications brought in a lawsuit against Rural Tele Services, calling it a copyright infringement.

    The case was struck down, as Feist did not include any kind of original data. If Feist had used any special format that took much effort, such as including maps, etc. alongside the phone numbers, it would have been a case of copyright violation. However, as it was just a simple arrangement of phone numbers, the verdict was in favor of Rural Tele Services Co.

    Princeton University Press v. Michigan Document Services (1996)

    Michigan Document Services was involved in creating packages of study material for the students of the University. A professor supplied the course material and Michigan Document services, a photocopying organization, took photocopies of the material and converted it into a booklet for sale to students at the University.

    There was a clause of "Fair use" in this case. The photocopying company could have paid a nominal fee to the University and then used the material. This was available to anyone who wished to use the material. However, the photocopying company paid for only the original and then started making photocopies of the study material. The court considered that it was not "fair use" and penalized the photocopying company.

    A & M Records vs. Napster (2001)

    This is one of the most famous cases of copyright infringement related to the music industry. As peer to peer file sharing increased, Napster started a website. This website offered downloads of songs of all genre – new and old. You may know someone who used it.

    A & M Records brought in a joint copyright infringement case which accused Napster of stealing music and making it available to people worldwide. Before closing the site in 2002, Napster had to settle USD26 million to different recording companies and songwriters. It could have even more if Napster had not apologized and folded the site.

    Several websites still thrive on offering free music to people who can download it at no cost. As mentioned in our article on "Internet Ethics and Copyright Laws", the music industry faces most copyright infringement cases. The Napster case, though an example of the consequences, still does not act as a deterrent for other music websites that offer free music downloads.

    We hope these famous copyright infringement cases have clarified what is considered copyright violation to some extent. If you still have any questions, please free to contact us using the comments facility.

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    Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Understanding Copyright and Copyright Infringements

This article series on Internet ethics and copyright laws help you understand different copyright laws, avoiding copyright infringements, and how to file a copyright infringement case. It also includes a sample copyright infringement example that helps you in filing a case against violator.
  1. Business Ethics on the Internet: Understanding Copyright Laws
  2. When Can a Derivative Work be Copyrighted?
  3. Well Known Cases of Copyright Infringement