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New Form, Inc. v. Tekila Films, Inc., et al.

Ninth Circuit affirms jury award of statutory damages for $1,312,500 for willful copyright infringement, rejecting defendants’ argument that statutory damages should be measured in relation to the fair market value of the infringed works

A jury found that the defendants willfully infringed fifteen of the plaintiff’s copyrights in Mexican films. The jury awarded the plaintiff $1,312,500 in statutory damages. The defendants appealed, arguing that the district court should have instructed the jury to measure statutory damages in relation to actual damages using the “fair market value” of the infringed works.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the jury’s decision, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to use the defendants’ proposed jury instructions. According to the court, a statutory damages award within the limits prescribed by Congress is appropriate even for “uninjurious and unprofitable invasions of copyright.” Furthermore, the court noted that the Ninth Circuit has consistently held that statutory damages are recoverable without regard to the existence or provability of actual damages. “There is no required nexus between actual and statutory damages under 17 U.S.C. § 504(c). Accordingly, the district court did not err in refusing Tekila Films’s proposed instruction, which itself would have been a misstatement of the law.”

The court also rejected the defendants’ argument that the jury awarded excessive damages because the statutory award was “far in excess of and disproportionate to the actual damages” the plaintiff suffered. As the court noted, this argument is a “retooled version” of the jury instruction argument above. “Tekila Films’s excessive-verdict claim turns on the incorrect premise that statutory damages must be tethered to actual damages. Because there is no such requirement, the jury’s verdict cannot be deemed excessive on that basis.”