Defending Against an Allegation of Copyright Infringement

Original creative works may be copyrighted in Minnesota.

Copyrights in Minnesota do not have to be registered in order to be valid. Even if a copyright is unregistered, use or reproduction by another of the copyrighted material without permission of the copyright owner generally constitutes copyright infringement.

The plaintiff in a copyright infringement lawsuit is the person who believes he or she has a copyright to a creative work that is being used, copied, or otherwise reproduced by another person without permission. The defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit is the person who is alleged to be using, copying, or otherwise reproducing the creative work that has been copyrighted by another person without permission.

Copyright Infringement Defenses

There are several potential defenses to copyright infringement allegations in Minnesota.

  • Sometimes a copyright infringement defense is based upon how the alleged infringer created, or came up with, the work.
  • Sometimes a copyright infringement defense is based upon what the original owner of the copyright has done, or hasn’t done, with the work since its creation.
  • A copyright infringement defense may be based upon the length of time that has passed since the infringement.
  • Or a copyright infringement defense may be based upon the nature of the alleged copyrighted work itself.

Below are a few examples of copyright infringement defenses. There are several others that should be considered as well, if you find yourself involved in this type of dispute, regardless of whether you are the owner of a copyright alleging an infringement, or whether you are defending against allegedly infringing yourself.

Independently Created

Independent creation is a defense to copyright infringement. This is another way of saying that the copyrighted work was not copied.

Obtaining a License

Having a license in the copyrighted work is a defense to copyright infringement actions. This means that the defendant had permission, or a license, to use the copyrighted work in the manner in which he or she used it.

Fair Use of the Work

If the use qualifies as “fair use” there is no copyright infringement. The fair use doctrine allows limited copying of copyrighted material under certain circumstances where authors would reasonably expect it and when it does not unfairly undermine the copyright protection.

Examples of fair use may be: parodies, satires, news reports, critiques, teaching, research, or reverse engineering. In determining whether something constitutes fair use, the purpose of the use will be considered, as well as the nature of the work, the proportion that is copyrighted, the effect on the market, and many other factors.

Abandonment by the Owner

Abandonment is a defense to copyright infringement. A person abandons a copyright if the person demonstrates an intent to surrender his or her rights in the copyrighted work. Merely not using the copyright does not demonstrate abandonment. Failing to enforce a copyright against known infringement over a period of time may show an intent to surrender rights in the copyrighted work.

Misuse by the Owner

A person’s misuse of their copyright may provide a defense to copyright infringement.

Past the Statute of Limitations

A copyright infringement lawsuit may be barred by the statute of limitations. The Copyright Act requires that a copyright infringement case be initiated within three years of the time the owner of the copyright knows or should have known of the infringement.