In this short note, we examine two recent copyright cases.
The first (First World Architects Studio v. McGhee, 2018 WL 2727912 (Ct. App. Ohio, June 6, 2018)) is not actually a copyright case, but rather a case filed in state court alleging that the defendant sought to obtain a building permit and improperly and without authorization used “copyrighted” architectural drawings prepared by the plaintiff. The trial court dismissed the complaint on the basis that the claim fell within the ambit of the Copyright Act and, therefore, was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the case involved a breach of contract action and the infringement claims involved unregistered architectural drawings. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal. Registration of the copyright had no bearing on the outcome of this case. Because the complaint made no further allegations concerning the contract, there was nothing outside the Copyright Act involved in the case, and dismissal for lack of jurisdiction was proper.
The second case (Preston Wood v. RZ Enterprises, 2018 WL 2722328 (USDC, S.D. Tex., June 6, 2018)), was filed in federal court. The defendant asserted the affirmative defense of “innocent infringement.” If a court were to hold that an infringement was “innocent,” then the court in its discretion can reduce the award of statutory damages to no less than $200. In this case, the defendant had the plaintiff’s copyrighted drawings in their possession, and those drawings contained a copyright notice. A copyright notice must include (1) the copyright symbol or the work “Copyright;” (2) the year of first publication of the work; and (3) the name of the owner of the copyright in the work). Effective in 1997, a copyright is considered effective from the moment of creation; a copyright notice is also not required on works.. However, as this case illustrates, a copyright notice is still important. Because the drawings had a copyright notice, the innocent infringer defense was not available to the defendant. Under the statutory damages provision of the Copyright Act, the defendant could be liable for up to $150,000 in statutory damages. This is a far cry from $200. The lesson from this case is to always place a copyright notice on drawings and other documents.