Why Copyright Cases So Often Become Litigious


The Usual Public Misperception:
Protecting One's Copyrights is Unreasonable
or Even Bullying — It is Neither

We have unfortunately become an overly litigious society. If our neighbor looks at us cross-eyed, we sue. If our children don't achieve the school grades we expect, we sue. If we spill coffee on ourselves in a restaurant, we sue. It's
always someone else's fault and never our own. Into that morass have been thrown those of us who have had to defend our copyrights. Why do we choose to sue when our intellectual property is stolen? The answer is that we have no other choice. Unlike the frivolous lawsuits mentioned above, litigation is the only avenue we have to undo the domino effect which copyright infringement creates.

"Copyright" is the legal protection which allows an author/creator of intellectual/artistic property to dictate how that work can be "copied" and used by others. Once infringement (the fancy word for theft) takes place, it opens the floodgates (especially in this age of the internet when things go worldwide so instantaneously) and releases the work without its proper protecting copyright notices or without the author/creator properly credited. It becomes such a mess that it takes legal means to correct and put on the record that such infringement has taken place yet even that isn't 100% successful. Why isn't it 100% successful? Think of it as the similar occurrence of a periodical publishing an incorrect statement and is then required to publish a correction or retraction. Publishing that correction or retraction may be legally dictated but where it is published is left entirely up to the periodical which routinely buries the correction/retraction so that the majority of the public who easily read the initial inaccuracy cannot find the update. The same can happen with copyrights—just because the correction is legally made doesn't mean that some of the offending versions haven't slipped through the cracks.

I like my business dealings on a personal level. I like to shake hands and look a person in the eye. I'd also like to punch a person in the nose for stealing from me. As momentarily satisfying as that notion may be, it still won't rectify the damage caused by copyright infringement. It doesn't matter if the person who does the infringing apologizes; the damage is far-reaching—even more than can be initially imagined. Litigation levies penalties; enforces protection of the copyrighted work; and creates a record that the infringement and the enforcement both took place. Before you pass judgement that the defender is being unreasonable or bullying, you must realize the repercussions. It is not, as the public often misperceives, that we author/creators have an elevated opinion of ourselves. What is actually at stake is a loss of revenue since we author/creators are paid for the use of our product. When copyright material is used without our permission and therefore without payment, we loose earnings. We don't sit alone creating and money falls into our laps from heaven. We sell our creations and we have the right to choose to whom we sell those creations. Talent does not mean that we give away our work. Think of copyright infringement as someone else stealing the hours on your time-clock punch-card at work. But unlike your time-clock punch-card, once our work is out there improperly without a copyright notice, anyone else can also steal it and then someone else and then someone else. We wind up earning nothing for our labors. Things can easily spiral out-of-control and become disastrous. Eventually, we can lose control of our own creations because we'll never find all of the offending pieces and we'll always have to be on the alert. Even worse, our work may wind up in places where we don't wish it to be such as supporting political candidates whose views are contrary to ours or promoting businesses we don't believe in.

Here's an example of how copyright infringement becomes a major headache for the author/creator:

A politician or a large corporation steals your material. You approach them. They admit nothing and they immediately close ranks. They have a battery of lawyers who rarely deal in what's right or wrong and who fully realize that the person making the complaint has to pay money to an attorney to get satisfaction so they wait it out hoping that most starving artists can't afford to pay an attorney in order to make the politician or the corporation do the right and honorable thing. Only when you publicize things and hire a lawyer does the matter miraculously get resolved so that the bad publicity doesn't continue. But getting to that point is often a nightmare. With corporations, their legal team always claims to never know who's responsible within their ranks hoping that that lie will serve them as not being culpable. It doesn't but you'll never find out exactly which individual committed the theft either. With politicians, neither their parties nor their fellow politicians will get involved citing that "it's a legal matter for the courts" which translates into "we know the bastard is guilty but we won't do anything about it because we may need his help somewhere down the line and we don't want to cross him." Both corporations and politicians also hope that your spending money to take them on will daunt you. Your resort is to shed light on the injustice—providing that you can get a newspaper who isn't also obliging to the politician (or to the corporation for advertising revenue) to expose things. It takes a lot of pressure and screaming on the author/creator's part. Imagine being the offended party and having to jump through hoops as though you were the guilty party in order to get satisfaction.

Here's another more personal example:

Over the course of six years, I wrote eleven plays for my alma mater, Seton Hall University, and its G. K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture. During each of those years, we had the constant discussion about how copyrighted works are protected and how that protection is sacrosanct. After word about my plays had spread, a European publisher expressed interest in publishing them which would have led to royalties from productions by schools and local theatre groups. It was to have been a nice windfall for me. That's when Seton Hall, whose G. K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture had been videotaping the plays solely for an academic record, attached a complete recording of the latest play to their official press release. The play went to every corner of the earth including to countries notorious for stealing copyrighted works. The European publisher immediately cancelled my contract since the material had been released for free. Seton Hall claimed they knew nothing of the happening or who was responsible even though the infringement was distributed by them quite officially through official channels. They knew exactly who was responsible but they weren't telling. Offenders will lie even if they have egg on their faces. It is the usual and common occurrence in these matters as though that might get them off the hook. It won't. The university traded on my name and talent then stole from me. Approaching the archbishop and the alumni association only resulted in their hiding their heads in the sand. It's a pretty sad state of affairs when you can't get your university or your church to do the legal and moral thing.

As both of those examples illustrate, the precise reason why copyright infringement cases turn to litigation is because people refuse to do the legal or moral thing unless it is forced upon them.


Copyright © 2015 by John Dandola
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"...the precise reason why copyright infringement cases turn to litigation is because people refuse to do the legal or moral thing unless it is forced upon them."