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  • Writer's pictureRolanzo White, Esq.

Understanding Copyright Infringement

It is essential for artists or inventors to protect their creative work and understanding the nuances of copyright infringement is crucial for creators, users, and enforcers alike. This blog delves into the legal standards and cases that shape how infringement is determined and what constitutes contributory and vicarious liabilities.




Copyright infringement requires proof of two elements:

  1. Ownership of a valid copyright, and

  2. Copying of constituent elements of the work that are original. Feist Publ'ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361 (1991).

If there is no direct evidence of copying, as is often the case, copying can be shown by evidence that: 

  • Defendant had access to the copyrighted work

  • The infringing work is substantially similar to the copyrighted work


To satisfy the second element, a plaintiff must show that:

  1. the defendant has actually copied the plaintiff's work, and

  2. the copying is illegal because a substantial similarity exists between the defendant's work and the protectible elements of plaintiff's work.

Yurman Design, Inc. v. PAJ Inc., 262 F.3d 101, 110 (2d Cir. 2001)

To prove the second element, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant not only copied the work but also that the copying is illegal because of a substantial similarity between the defendant's work and the protectable elements of the plaintiff's work (Yurman Design, Inc. v. PAJ Inc.).


Contributory Infringement

This occurs when a party, with knowledge of the infringing activity, materially contributes to the infringing conduct of another. The key aspects include:


  • Knowledge Requirement: The infringer knew or had reason to know of the infringing activity.

  • Material Contribution: The contribution must be substantial, going beyond a mere quantitative addition (Arista Records LLC v.


Vicarious Infringement

A more indirect form of liability, vicarious infringement, requires:


  • Supervisory Control: The defendant had the ability and right to control the infringing activity.

  • Direct Financial Interest: A clear, causal relationship between the infringement and financial benefit gained by the defendant.


Inducement of Infringement

This involves a party encouraging others to infringe, characterized by:

  • Purposeful Conduct: Engaging in actions that foster infringement.

  • Intent: The desire to encourage such infringement.



Copyright infringement and its related liabilities are complex but fundamental concepts in the realm of intellectual property law. Understanding these principles is essential for anyone engaged in creating, distributing, or using copyrighted works. It's about adhering to legal standards and respecting the creative efforts and rights of individuals and organizations worldwide.

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