The copyright: not just trademark’s sidekick
It’s a bird…it’s a plane….it’s a federally registered copyright? That’s right folks, the copyright has been spotted in numerous counterfeit and infringement lawsuits saving product owners significant losses by activating statutory (automatic and guaranteed) damages. While patents and trademarks get all of the publicity for protecting brands and products, the copyright fights infringement more effectively than its intellectual property (IP) counterparts; making it the unsung hero of IP protection.
The copyright is so overlooked that even product attorneys forget what a powerful member of the IP protection league it is. For example, patent rights enforcement tends to be technical and complex, often requiring long, costly legal battles with Tony Stark caliber experts to prove infringement. However, copyrights, which protect property such as images, illustrations, infomercials, and product packaging, are pretty easy to eyeball, even for an untrained juror.
Copyright is also the most affordable IP protection to secure. Moreover, copyright infringement triggers statutory damage awards that can soar to up to $30,000 per occurrence; plus, recovery of attorney’s fees. As such, trial attorneys are more willing to take on a (properly registered) copyright infringement case on a contingency basis. Of course, statutory damages are merely a fallback, with many product owners seeking actual damages (i.e., lost profits), which is an entirely different hulk of a task.
Additionally, the copyright is the only member of the IP protection league that successfully combats counterfeit sales on platforms such as Amazon; trademark registration alone will not suffice to remove counterfeits on Amazon. To be sure, the counterfeit seller merely has to allege that it is selling a legitimate product, and then there is no infringement thanks to the First Sale Doctrine (you bought it, you own it, you can resell it and call it what it is). In some instances, the infringer changes the name of the product, which effectively shields it from a trademark infringement claim altogether. However, the right to resell a product does not give rise to the right to display copyrighted images for the purpose of that sale. This is another reason why the copyright is so powerful.
While patents and trademarks are formidable tools for many reasons other than defending against knock-offs and counterfeits, with the copyright being such a low-cost titan in the IP universe, it’s a wonder more businesses do not utilize its armor. For maximum protection, copyrights need to be registered in a flash, so be sure to summon an intellectual property attorney prior to your product rollout.