Maximum Statutory Damages for Willful Copyright Infringement a Jury Issue

Chara Curtis, Cynthia Aldrich, and Alfred Currier wrote and illustrated three children’s books, How Far to Heaven?, Fun Is a Feeling and All I See is a Part of Me.  The copyrights on the books are registered.  Illumination Arts, Inc. (IAI) published the books under a publishing contract, beginning in 1989.  IAI paid royalties until September 30, 2009.  After that IAI stopped paying regular royalties, making only one subsequent royalty payment.  The authors demanded that IAI resume paying royalties.  When IAI still failed to pay royalties, the authors terminated the publishing contracts with IAI and requested to buy the books in inventory.  IAI refused to sell the inventory books to the authors.  Prior to the authors’ contract termination, IAI made the books available to consumers in electronic form, even though it was not authorized to do so under the publishing agreements.  IAI continued to make copies of the books, sell the books and display them online after the authors terminated the publishing contract, despite the authors’ demands to cease such activities.

The authors filed a lawsuit against IAI and its successor, Illumination Arts Publishing, LLC (IAP) in federal court in the Western District of Washington.  The authors alleged breach of contract and copyright infringement and sought an injunction against IAI and IAP.  This post addresses only the copyright issues.  In the authors’ first motion for summary judgment, the district court held IAI, IAP and two of their officers directly liable for copyright infringement and for willful copyright infringement.  The district court granted the authors’ motion for a permanent injunction and ordered the defendants to return all infringing copies of the books to the authors.  The authors’ second motion for summary judgment, and the subject of the rest of this post, asked the district court to award the authors $150,000 for each work infringed, the maximum statutory damages for willful copyright infringement.  (17 U.S.C. §504(c)(1)-(2)).

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