Copyright Enforcement in the Digital Age: When the Remedy is the Wrong


Statutory damage awards are controversial in copyright law. To some, statutory damages are indispensable to enable the pursuit of meritorious copyright infringement claims that otherwise are too costly to pursue. Others are convinced that the availability of statutory damages tempts plaintiffs into asserting dubious infringement claims in order to obtain generous settlement concessions from risk averse defendants. In light of these contrasting viewpoints, we face the important policy question whether statutory damages should be redesigned for the digital age or, to the contrary, be retained in their current form, given the difficulties of enforcing copyrights online.

This Article conducts a comprehensive empirical study of copyright statutory damages. An extensive examination of docket entries and case law reveals a widespread practice of overclaiming of remedies in copyright litigation. Although 80 percent of plaintiffs in all disputes claim that they suffered conduct that constitutes willful infringement, courts find willful infringement in just 2 percent of cases where plaintiffs obtain a favorable verdict.

The findings suggest that remedy overclaiming in copyright serves strategic purposes. For instance, by highlighting the outer range of enhanced statutory awards in complaints, plaintiffs leverage the risk aversion of defendants to induce generous settlement concessions. In order to curb opportunistic uses of the statutory damages, I provide policy suggestions that would make remedy overclaiming more costly to plaintiffs and less threatening to defendants.

About the Author

Max Radin Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Hastings College of the Law; Affiliate Scholar, Stanford Law School, Center for Internet and Society; Director, CASLE, Ugent.

By uclalaw