In Copyright law, Statutory Damages are awards determined by the courts in the United States to grant victims of copyright infringement monetary awards without needing to prove any actual monetary damages by the infringing party.
Unlike Actual Damages, which are the losses suffered by the copyright owner as a result of the infringement, Statutory Damages provide copyright holders with an alternative to resolve an infringement case because they can qualify just by proving the infringement took place. Statutory Damages are typically easier to obtain because proving and calculating the actual damages can be a lengthy process, and sometimes result in little-to-no compensation. For this reason, many plaintiffs will elect to pursue Statutory Damages over Actual Damages.
How Much Can I Be Awarded?
Typically, Statutory Damages range between $750 - $30,000 for copyright violations. In cases of "innocent infringement" where the infringer was not aware and had no reason to believe that their acts constituted an infringement of copyright, damages can be reduced to $200. In cases of willful copyright infringement, they can be increased to up to $150,000. Statutory Damages were not necessarily written into copyright law as a way for copyright holders to be granted massive windfalls, but there have in fact been court cases resulting in Statutory Damages being awarded that are over 100 times the Actual Damages proven. In most cases we won't experience that, so it is better to view them simply as a more straightforward option for you to receive the compensation due to you when someone infringes on your copyright.
How Do I Qualify?
As great as Statutory Damages are, they are useless if we aren't eligible for them. You can miss out of these awards if you wait too long to register your copyright. To ensure you are eligible for Statutory Damages, we recommend registering your works before any release or publication. Once released, you must register your copyright within 3 months of publication. Otherwise, any infringement that takes place before registration may not be eligible and you would have to prove Actual Damages and/or profits from the infringement to be awarding any compensation.
law.cornell.edu - 17 U.S. Code § 504 - Remedies for infringement: Damages and profits
copyrightalliance.org - What Are Statutory Damages and Why Do They Matter?
bfvlaw.com - Copyright Infringement: What are the Potential Damages?
upcounsel.com - Statutory Damages: Everything You Need to Know
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