Skip to content

IP/Entertainment Case Law Updates

Electra Entertainment Group Inc., et al. v. McDowell, USDC M.D. Georgia

In a case involving unauthorized downloading and distribution, via the internet, of copyrighted sound recordings, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia denied in part plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment as to statutory damages and costs, but granted the motion in part as to plaintiff’s request for a permanent injunction to prevent defendant from further copyright infringement.

Plaintiffs are the owners of the copyrights in various sound recordings. Defendant, Sarah McDowell, admitted she violated the Copyright Act by downloading and distributing, via the internet, copyrighted sound recordings. Plaintiffs asked for the statutory minimum damages allowed under the Copyright Act, $750 per infringement; defendant claimed that the statutory damages should be reduced because defendant was an innocent infringer and sought a jury trial on this issue.

The court noted that the Copyright Act allows an aggrieved party to elect either actual or statutory damages, with statutory damages for each infringement to be not less than $750 or more than $30,000. However, the Copyright Act provides that if a court finds that an infringer was not aware and had no reason to believe that his or her acts constituted an infringement of copyright, the court in its discretion may reduce the award of statutory damages to a sum of not less than $200. 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)(2).

In making the determination as to whether a defendant is an innocent infringer, the fact finder must look into the defendant’s state of mind to determine whether he or she was not aware and had no reason to believe that his or her acts constituted infringement. However, the Copyright Act limits the application of the innocent infringer provision where a defendant had access to records and compact disks bearing the proper copyright notice. The defendant argued that she created a question of fact as to whether she was an innocent infringer and therefore she was entitled to a jury trial on the issue. Plaintiffs argued that defendant had access to proper copyright notices at any location where sound recordings are sold, and thus could not be an innocent infringer.

The court found that the defendant was entitled to a jury trial to determine the proper amount of statutory damages because (1) there was a question of fact as to whether defendant, as a thirteen or fourteen year old child at the time of the infringement, was aware or had reason to believe that her acts constituted an infringement of a copyright; and (2) assuming that defendant was an innocent infringer, there was a question of fact as to whether defendant had access to the notice of copyright such that her innocent infringer defense had no mitigating effect.

The court granted plaintiffs’ motion as to their claim for injunctive relief permanently preventing defendant from further copyright infringement, holding that an injunction is appropriate given defendant’s multiple violations of the Copyright Act.

Download our Intellectual Property/Entertainment Cases of Interest mobile app using the links below.