In 1710, in Great Britain, the first copyright act enforced by the government was established, called “The Statue of Anne.” It was first issued solely to protect the rights of book authors. Since then, a wide range of original material has fallen under copyright acts. The main goal is to preserve the right of authorship to the original owner of the material. Any attempt of reproducing or imitating something protected by a copyright for profit or otherwise is punishable by law. Tracking copyright infringements has always been difficult, but since the birth of the Internet, it has become harder than ever. The main problem is that the Internet created a massive platform that is too big than to be monitored in every corner. Copyright claims have always been tricky due to false claims or story line conflicts, especially in older cases. That’s why there is something called copyright statute of limitations.
SEE ALSO: How to Copyright
What Is Infringement?
It is simply using any works protected by copyright law without authorization from the owner. Imagine you own a certain online newspaper, all the content on the website will be protected by copyright law. This includes articles, titles, logos, pictures, and even the design of the website. Copyrights guarantee the owner certain exclusive rights, including reproduction, display, distribution, or alteration of the works. Copyright infringement is violation of any of those rights and is punishable by law. For example, if someone were to copy an article without permission you have the right to legal action against that person, within the copyright statute of limitations (mentioned in detail later.)
Of course, not every act can be considered infringement. For example, if someone were to quote your article in their own journals or for educational purposes. Also you don’t have exclusive rights to topics or stories that are run by your newspaper.
There are many types of copyright violation, most of which are concerned with unlawful imitation. In the recent years however, due to the burst of online content many types of copyright infringement became more frequent. Example: Marketing content plagiarism.
Copyright Statute of Limitations?
Anyone subject to copyrights infringement is, of course, able to file for a lawsuit. However, they can only do so within a specific period of time called “the copyright statute of limitations.” Does this mean that someone can get away with infringement if they aren’t caught within the time limit? There are different rules we will discuss below but the timer starts to count mostly after the discovery of the violation.
First of all, what exactly is the period of time?
Copyright statute of limitations according to the U.S Copyright Act is three years, if action is taken in a civil lawsuit. Meaning, you cannot file for an infringement claim after you’ve discovered the violation by 3 years.
This period of time is exclusive for civil court lawsuits. There are instances however, where a criminal class action can be taken against a violator. In such cases the copyrights statute of limitations is extended to five years. An example of criminal copyright infringement is counterfeiting or mass production of copyrighted material.
Statute of Limitations Rules
The rules to which the copyright statute of limitation applies depends largely on the country and even the city within the country. In the U.S for example, there are two rules:
The Discovery Rule
The discovery rule states that you can only pursue legal action against a copyright infringer within three years since the discovery of said infringement. This is the rule used in most courts now, and ensures the right to seek legal action as soon as the owner discovers the violation. This is especially important since the Internet allows for infringements to go unnoticed for years due to its sheer scale.
The Injury Rule
This is alternatively counting the time since the violation occurred, rather than its discovery. The injury rule is mainly used in the second circuit court in New York.
Why Is There a Statute of Limitations?
You may think that statute of limitations is unnecessary leeway to criminals. But bear in mind that not all accused are actual criminals. If a long period of time has passed it may become impossible for a defendant to provide evidence. Every crime has its own statute of limitations suitable for the investigation to be conclusive.
Some would argue that such reasons aren’t applicable with copyrights. Imagine however, that you were a partner at a marketing consulting website and you left the website to start your own. You made an agreement to take the content you wrote with you to your new website. Then a few years later your old partner decided to sue you for copyright infringement. Copyright statute of limitations ensure that you cannot be sued after the passing of such a long time that you lost all evidence of such agreement.
Copyright Infringement Penalties
If it is proven that a copyright infringement has occurred in court, then the defendant will be subject to penalties. This penalty can reach up to $150,000 dollars in fines if the judge rules that there is only statutory damage. Statutory damage is when there is no actual copyright damage that can be evaluated. If the defendant violated multiple copyrights, then he may be subject to many statutory damage fines, each reaching up to $150,000 and no less than $200.
If the copyright infringement is prosecuted in a criminal court, then the defendant may be looking at considerable jail time.
If the defendant uses the copyrighted works to make profit, then this is considered actual damage. The defendant is then asked to compensate the exact sum of damages, if the copyright owner can provide evidence of such damages. This ensures the return of all copyrighted material proceedings to their lawful owner.
Copyright acts ensure exclusive rights to the owner, given that they fall under copyright law. If any violation occurs without knowledge of the owner, then he may seek legal action. However, once the owner knows of any act of infringement there is a copyright statute of limitations that forces action within 3 years of proved knowledge. If the defendant is found guilty, infringement is a serious act that can be punishable by notable fines or even jail time.