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5 Famous Copyright Infringement Cases

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Manish Jindal

January 12, 2024

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5 Famous Copyright Infringement Cases

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In the ever-evolving digital landscape, the protection of intellectual property rights has become an increasingly complex and highly debated topic.

Many business owners, creators and artists are creating the unique work from their creative energy.

Imagine that someone’s stealing your work and publishing without any prior permission. That’s why you need to understand the importance of copyright law.

In this article, let us look into the copyright infringement cases that shook the world. We will also explore the key components of the cases, legal issues and the consequences of every dispute.

These cases not only serve as cautionary tales but also offer valuable insights into the intricacies of copyright law and the ongoing challenges faced by creators and rights holders in safeguarding their creative works.

Join us as we explore the fascinating world of copyright disputes and the lasting impact they have had on the world of intellectual property.

Copyright Infringement and its Consequences

If you are creating a work, you are the holder of exclusive rights such as reproducing, broadcasting, publishing, selling etc.

Hence, if someone copies your work without any permission, then it is known as the copyright infringement.

In today’s digital age, the ease of sharing and reproducing content has led to an increase in copyright infringement instances, making it more critical than ever to understand its consequences.

The consequences of copyright infringement can be far-reaching and severe, affecting both individuals and businesses alike. They can include:

Legal Action

The copyright holder may choose to pursue legal action against the infringer, seeking remedies such as an injunction to stop the infringement, monetary damages to compensate for the harm caused, or potentially, statutory damages awarded by the court.

Financial Penalties

Infringers may be required to pay substantial damages to the copyright holder, which can include actual damages and the infringer’s profits or statutory damages, which may range from $750 to $30,000 per work infringed.

In cases of willful infringement, statutory damages can be as high as $150,000 per work.

Criminal Charges

In some cases, particularly when the infringement is willful and involves a large scale or commercial distribution, criminal charges can be brought against the infringer.

Criminal penalties include both fines and imprisonment. However, it will depend on the severe offense.

Loss of Reputation

Individuals or businesses found guilty of copyright infringement may suffer significant reputational damage, which can have lasting negative effects on future opportunities and relationships with partners, clients, or customers.

Takedown Notices and Removal of Content

Online platforms, such as Amazon, YouTube, and social media sites, often have policies in place to remove infringing content upon receiving a valid takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

This removal can result in a loss of revenue or audience for the infringing party.

Account Suspension or Termination

Repeated instances of copyright infringement on online platforms can lead to the suspension or termination of user accounts, which may result in a significant loss of income or reach for the infringer.

To avoid these consequences, it is essential to respect the intellectual property rights of others, obtain necessary permissions or licenses for using copyrighted materials, create original content, and stay informed about the nuances of copyright law.

By taking these steps, individuals and businesses can ensure they remain compliant with the law and protect their reputation, while fostering a culture of respect and creativity in the digital space.

Further Reading: 4 Famous Piracy Cases

What is Plagiarism Lawsuit?

A plagiarism lawsuit refers to a legal case where one party accuses another of using their original work without proper attribution or permission.

This type of lawsuit typically arises when someone copies, reproduces, or uses another person’s work (such as written content, music, or images) and presents it as their own, without giving credit to the original creator.

Plagiarism is considered a form of intellectual property theft and can lead to serious legal consequences.

In most cases, plagiarism lawsuits involve copyright infringement. Copyright law protects original works of authorship, such as literary, artistic, musical, or dramatic works.

When someone plagiarises another person’s work, they may be violating the copyright holder’s exclusive rights, including the right to reproduce, distribute, perform, or display the work.

To succeed in a plagiarism lawsuit, the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) must generally prove the following:

Ownership: They must show that they own a valid copyright in the work that has allegedly been plagiarised.


Copying: They must provide evidence that the defendant (the person being sued) actually copied the copyrighted work.

This can be demonstrated through direct evidence, such as emails or documents, or circumstantial evidence, such as the striking similarity between the two works.


Substantial similarity: They must prove that the allegedly plagiarised work is substantially similar to the original copyrighted work, which means that an ordinary observer would recognise the copied elements as originating from the original work.

If the plaintiff can prove these elements, they may be entitled to various remedies, including monetary damages, injunctive relief (a court order to stop the infringing activity), and in some cases, the recovery of attorney’s fees and costs.

It is essential to note that plagiarism can have severe consequences not only in the legal context but also in academic and professional settings.

In these cases, the penalties may include expulsion from educational institutions, job loss, or damage to one’s reputation.

Further Reading: Difference Between Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement


Copyright Infringement in Music Industry

Copyright infringement in the music industry is a pervasive issue that has become increasingly complex with the advent of digital technology and the internet.

Copyright violation in the music industry also involves the musical works. The musical works can be songs, sound recordings, compositions or lyrics without obtaining any permission.


This infringement can take various forms, some of which include:

Sampling: Sampling refers to using a portion of a copyrighted sound recording or composition in a new song without obtaining the necessary licenses or permissions from the copyright holder.

While sampling can be an essential creative tool for many musicians, unauthorised sampling can lead to copyright infringement claims.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is also similar to copyright violation. If someone uses your musical copies or imitate your lyric, then their work will be subjected to plagiarism.


This may involve replicating a melody, lyrics, or entire compositions. Plagiarism can result in legal disputes and significant damages for the infringing artist.

Unauthorised Distribution: Unauthorised distribution involves sharing or selling copyrighted music without the consent of the copyright holder.

This can take the form of illegal downloads, peer-to-peer file sharing, or unauthorised streaming on digital platforms.

Cover Songs and Performances: Performing or recording a cover of a copyrighted song without obtaining the appropriate licenses, such as a mechanical license for recording or a public performance license for live performances, can result in copyright infringement.

Remixes and Mashups: Remixes and mashups involve altering or combining existing copyrighted songs to create new works.

While these creative endeavors can be popular and well-received, they may still constitute copyright infringement if the necessary permissions or licenses have not been obtained.

The consequences of copyright infringement in the music industry can be severe, including legal action, financial penalties, and reputational damage for the infringing party. Additionally, copyright disputes can hinder creativity and collaboration between artists.

To avoid copyright infringement in the music industry, musicians should:

  • Obtain necessary licenses and permissions for using copyrighted materials.
  • Create original content and ensure that any borrowed elements are properly licensed or fall within the scope of “fair use” or other copyright exceptions.
  • Stay informed about copyright law and its implications for their work.
  • Respect the intellectual property rights of fellow musicians and creators.
  • By adhering to these principles, musicians can contribute to a thriving and respectful creative community that values originality and the protection of intellectual property rights.

By adhering to these principles, musicians can contribute to a thriving and respectful creative community that values originality and the protection of intellectual property rights.

David Bowie Case

In the case of Vanilla Ice vs. Queen & David Bowie, the songs in question are “Ice Ice Baby” and “Under Pressure.”

It’s evident that there are striking similarities between the two tracks.

“Under Pressure,” a collaboration between Queen and David Bowie, features a memorable bass line and guitar riff that became widely popular.

However, in 1990, rapper Vanilla Ice used and sampled the iconic riff for his hit song “Ice Ice Baby” without obtaining legal permission.

Vanilla Ice argued that he had altered the riff by adding an extra note at the end, but this was not considered a sufficient change.

As a result, Queen and Bowie filed a lawsuit against Vanilla Ice for unauthorised use of their music.

The verdict

In this case, Vanilla Ice knowingly used a famous musical element without consent and ultimately faced the consequences.

The dispute was settled out of court, with Vanilla Ice paying an undisclosed amount. Both Bowie and Queen members were credited as songwriters on “Ice Ice Baby.”

Vanilla Ice later claimed that purchasing the song’s copyright was less expensive than going through a court battle, so that’s what he did.

Nonetheless, some critics argue that this action does not compensate for the possible damage to the reputations of Queen and David Bowie, who are now involuntarily associated with Vanilla Ice through this unapproved collaboration.

Chuck Berry’s Copyright Infringement Case

One of the most famous copyright infringement cases involving Chuck Berry, the legendary rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, was against The Beach Boys.

The case revolved around The Beach Boys’ 1963 hit “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and its similarities to Chuck Berry’s 1958 classic “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

Upon listening to both songs, it’s apparent that the melody and chord progression of “Surfin’ U.S.A.” are strikingly similar to those of “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

As a result, Chuck Berry and his publisher, Arc Music, accused The Beach Boys of copyright infringement.

The case was resolved outside the courtroom, with The Beach Boys agreeing to give Chuck Berry co-writing credit for “Surfin’ U.S.A.”

Additionally, a portion of the song’s royalties went to Arc Music.

This case highlights the importance of recognising and respecting the intellectual property rights of other artists, as well as the influence that Chuck Berry’s music had on the development of rock ‘n’ roll.

George Harrison Case

In 1971, former Beatle George Harrison was accused of copyright infringement for his song “My Sweet Lord,” which was alleged to have plagiarised the melody of the Chiffons’ hit song “He’s So Fine.”

Harrison had written “My Sweet Lord” in 1969, and it quickly became a hit.

However, Bright Tunes Music, which owned the rights to “He’s So Fine,” filed a lawsuit against Harrison, claiming that he had copied the melody of the song.

The case went to trial in 1976, and the court found that Harrison had subconsciously copied the melody of “He’s So Fine” when writing “My Sweet Lord.”

Although Harrison had altered the melody somewhat, the court ruled that the similarities were sufficient to constitute copyright infringement.

As a result, Harrison was ordered to pay damages to Bright Tunes Music, and the songwriting credits for “My Sweet Lord” were changed to include the Chiffons’ songwriter, Ronnie Mack.

The case was notable not only for its impact on Harrison’s career but also for the legal precedent it set regarding subconscious plagiarism.

The case established that even unintentional copying could be considered infringement, and it highlighted the need for artists to be cautious when creating new works that might be similar to existing ones.

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5 Famous Copyright Infringement Cases

The “Blurred Lines” case: In 2015, a jury found that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had infringed on Marvin Gaye’s copyright with their hit song “Blurred Lines”.

The jury ruled that “Blurred Lines” copied elements of Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up”, and awarded Gaye’s family $7.4 million in damages.

The Napster case: In 2000, the music-sharing site Napster was sued by several major record labels for facilitating copyright infringement.

The case eventually led to Napster shutting down and a shift in the music industry towards digital distribution.

The “Happy Birthday” case: In 2015, a federal judge ruled that the copyright to the song “Happy Birthday to You” was invalid, after a documentary filmmaker challenged its ownership.

The ruling meant that the song could be used freely in public performances without fear of infringing on copyright.

The “Harry Potter Lexicon” case: In 2008, J.K. Rowling sued a fan who had created a reference book about the Harry Potter series, claiming that it infringed on her copyright.

The case was eventually settled out of court, with the fan agreeing to make changes to the book.

The “Google Books” case: In 2013, a federal judge ruled that Google’s scanning of millions of books for its Google Books service constituted fair use, and did not infringe on copyright.

The ruling was a victory for Google, and has been cited as an important precedent for the use of copyrighted material in digital projects.


High Profile Copyright Infringement Cases

Apple vs Samsung: In 2011, Apple sued Samsung for patent infringement, claiming that Samsung’s smartphones and tablets copied the design and functionality of Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

The case went to trial in 2012, with Apple ultimately being awarded $1.05 billion in damages.

Oracle vs Google: In 2010, Oracle sued Google for copyright infringement, alleging that Google had used parts of Oracle’s Java programming language in its Android mobile operating system without permission.

The case went to trial in 2012, with a jury ruling in Google’s favor.

HarperCollins vs Open Road: In 2011, HarperCollins sued Open Road over its plan to publish an e-book version of Jean Craighead George’s “Julie of the Wolves”.

HarperCollins claimed that Open Road’s edition would infringe on its copyright, but a judge ruled in Open Road’s favor, stating that the book was not covered by HarperCollins’ copyright.

Warner Bros. vs. RDR Books: In 2008, Warner Bros. sued RDR Books over its plans to publish a Harry Potter lexicon, claiming that it would infringe on the copyright of J.K.

Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The case went to trial in 2009, with the judge ruling in favor of Warner Bros. and Rowling.

Associated Press vs. Shepard Fairey: In 2009, the Associated Press sued artist Shepard Fairey for copyright infringement over his use of an AP photograph of Barack Obama as the basis for his iconic “Hope” poster.

The case was settled out of court in 2011, with Fairey agreeing to pay the AP $1.6 million.

Copyright Infringement Cases in Artistic Communities

Richard Prince vs. Patrick Cariou: In 2011, photographer Patrick Cariou sued artist Richard Prince for copyright infringement over Prince’s use of Cariou’s photographs in his “Canal Zone” series.

The case went to trial in 2013, with the judge ruling in favor of Cariou and ordering Prince to pay damages.

Jeff Koons vs. Franck Davidovici: In 2011, the estate of French jewelry designer Franck Davidovici sued artist Jeff Koons for copyright infringement over Koons’ use of Davidovici’s “Fait d’Hiver” advertisement in his sculpture “Naked”. The case was settled out of court in 2012.

Shepard Fairey vs. The Associated Press: As mentioned earlier, artist Shepard Fairey was sued by the Associated Press for copyright infringement over his use of an AP photograph in his “Hope” poster. The case was settled out of court in 2011.

Estate of Pablo Picasso vs. Christian Zervos: In 2015, the estate of Pablo Picasso sued art historian Christian Zervos for copyright infringement over Zervos’ publication of a catalogue raisonné of Picasso’s works.

The estate claimed that Zervos had used images of Picasso’s art without permission, but the case was dismissed by a French court in 2017.

Estate of Marcel Duchamp vs. Jeff Koons: In 2014, the estate of Marcel Duchamp sued Jeff Koons over Koons’ use of a photograph of Duchamp’s “Fountain” sculpture in his work “Fait d’Hiver”.

The case was settled out of court in 2018.

Successful Copyright Infringement Cases

A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc. (2001) In this landmark case, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the file-sharing service Napster had committed copyright infringement by enabling users to share copyrighted music without permission.

The court ordered Napster to remove all copyrighted material from its platform, eventually leading to the company’s bankruptcy and shutdown.

Oracle America, Inc. v. Google LLC (initially 2010, resolved 2021) This long-running legal battle centered on Google’s use of Oracle’s Java APIs in its Android operating system.

In 2021, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Google, stating that the use of the Java APIs constituted fair use under copyright law. However, Oracle had previously won two lower court decisions before the case reached the Supreme Court.

Viacom International Inc. v. YouTube, Inc. (2007) In this case, media giant Viacom sued YouTube, alleging that the video-sharing platform had infringed on its copyrights by hosting unauthorised clips from Viacom-owned television shows and movies.

The case eventually settled in 2014, with YouTube agreeing to improve its content identification and removal processes to better protect copyrighted material.

Capitol Records, LLC v. Vimeo, LLC (2014) Capitol Records and other major music labels filed a lawsuit against the video-sharing site Vimeo, claiming that the platform facilitated copyright infringement by hosting user-uploaded videos that contained copyrighted music.

The case concluded in 2016, with the court ruling that Vimeo was entitled to “safe harbor” protections under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but that it must take reasonable steps to remove infringing content when notified.

The Authors Guild v. Google, Inc. (2005) This case involved Google’s efforts to digitise millions of books as part of its Google Books project.

The Authors Guild and other plaintiffs sued Google for copyright infringement, arguing that the company’s scanning and display of book excerpts constituted an unauthorised use of their works.

In 2013, a US District Court judge ruled that Google’s actions constituted fair use under copyright law, as they were transformative and provided significant public benefits.

This decision was upheld by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 2015.

These cases illustrate the ongoing legal challenges that surround copyright law in the digital age, as courts attempt to balance the rights of copyright holders with the public’s interest in accessing and sharing information.

Further Reading: Copyright Infringement Cases in Books

Legal Proceedings of Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is a serious issue that can lead to legal disputes and financial consequences for the parties involved.

The legal proceedings for copyright infringement are typically conducted in civil courts, with the goal of resolving the dispute, compensating the copyright holder, and potentially imposing penalties on the infringing party.

This process can be complex and may involve various stages, including pretrial, trial, and post-trial activities.

Pretrial Stage

a. Cease and Desist Letter: Often, the copyright holder starts by sending a cease and desist letter to the alleged infringer, demanding them to stop the infringing activities and possibly negotiate a settlement.

This step is not required by law, but it can help resolve the dispute without going to court.

b. Investigation: If the dispute is not resolved, the copyright holder may conduct an investigation to gather evidence of infringement, such as screenshots, copies of the infringing material, and statements from witnesses.

c. Legal Counsel: Both parties may consult with copyright attorneys to assess the merits of their case and plan their legal strategy.

d. Filing a Complaint: If the dispute is not resolved through negotiation, the copyright holder can initiate a lawsuit by filing a complaint in federal court.

The complaint must outline the relevant facts, the alleged infringement, and the relief sought, such as damages or an injunction.

Discovery

After the complaint is filed, both parties engage in a discovery process, exchanging information and evidence relevant to the case.

This may include interrogatories, requests for documents, and depositions of witnesses.

Motions

During the pretrial stage, both parties may file various motions to resolve legal issues, such as a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment.

These motions can help narrow down the issues in the case or even resolve it before going to trial.

Trial

If the case is not resolved through pretrial motions or settlement, it proceeds to trial. During the trial, both parties present their evidence and arguments to a judge or jury.

The copyright holder must prove the ownership of the copyrighted work, the alleged infringer’s access to the work, and the substantial similarity between the original and the infringing work.

The alleged infringer may present defenses, such as fair use or independent creation.

Judgement and Remedies

If the copyright holder prevails, the court may award various remedies, including:

a. Damages: The court may award actual damages suffered by the copyright holder, statutory damages (a predetermined amount set by law), or, in some cases, the infringer’s profits derived from the infringement.

b. Injunction: The court may issue an injunction, ordering the infringer to stop the infringing activities and, in some cases, destroy the infringing materials.

c. Attorneys’ Fees and Costs: In some cases, the court may award attorneys’ fees and costs to the prevailing party.

Appeals

Either party may appeal the judgment to a higher court if they believe legal errors occurred during the trial.

The appeals process can be lengthy and may result in a reversal, modification, or affirmation of the original judgment.

In conclusion, copyright infringement cases can be complex and time-consuming, involving multiple stages and legal issues.

It is essential for both parties to understand their rights and obligations under the law and to seek professional legal advice to navigate the legal proceedings effectively.

Conclusion

In conclusion, famous copyright infringement cases serve as pivotal examples in the realm of intellectual property law, highlighting the importance of respecting and protecting original creative works.

These cases, which involve well-known entities from various industries, emphasise the potential consequences of copyright violations, and underline the necessity for both individuals and organisations to remain vigilant in their efforts to avoid infringing on the rights of others.

As we continue to move forward in the digital age, understanding and learning from these prominent cases will be crucial in fostering a culture of innovation and creativity, while also promoting the responsible use and sharing of copyrighted materials.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is infringement?

Infringement occurs when someone uses, reproduces, distributes, displays, or creates derivative works from copyrighted material without the permission of the holder or without a valid legal exception, such as fair use.

What are some famous copyright infringement cases in the music industry?

Some well-known cases include Marvin Gaye’s estate vs. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams (the “Blurred Lines” case), The Verve vs. The Rolling Stones (“Bitter Sweet Symphony”), and George Harrison vs. The Chiffons (“My Sweet Lord” / “He’s So Fine”).

How do courts determine whether infringement has occurred?

Courts typically look at factors such as the holder’s ownership, the alleged infringer’s access to the work, and the substantial similarity between the original work and the allegedly infringing work. Defenses, such as fair use, may also be considered.

What remedies are available for holders in infringement cases?

Remedies can include monetary damages (actual damages, statutory damages, or infringer’s profits), injunctions to stop the infringing activities, and in some cases, the award of attorneys’ fees and costs to the prevailing party.

What is the fair use defense in copyright infringement cases?

Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows for the limited use of copyrighted material without permission under certain circumstances, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.

Courts consider factors such as the purpose of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect on the market or value of the copyrighted work.

How long does a copyright last?

In general, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

For anonymous works, pseudonymous works, or works made for hire, the copyright duration is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

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