Copyright law grants creators of original works of authorship (e.g., books, movies, photographs, computer code, and visual art) a set of exclusive rights in their works, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, perform, and display the work, or prepare derivative works from it. Anyone who takes one of those actions without the permission of the copyright owner—subject to certain exceptions, such as fair use—is a copyright infringer and potentially legally liable. Once a copyright is registered, the copyright holder may sue in federal court to obtain legal relief from the infringement, including judicial injunctions (i.e., a court order to cease infringement) and monetary damages.
Copyright cases are an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction—that is, litigants must bring copyright lawsuits in federal (not state) courts. Federal litigation can be costly and is difficult to navigate without an attorney’s assistance. The American Intellectual Property Law Association has estimated that the median cost to litigate a copyright claim through appeal is $278,000. Although courts may award attorneys’ fees and costs to prevailing parties in copyright suits (in addition to actual or statutory damages), such relief is not available as a matter of course, but instead entrusted to the court’s discretion.