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What constitutes copyright infringement?

If you live in California and believe your intellectual property has been reproduced, performed, displayed or used as a building block for another project, it is possible that you have a case for copyright infringement. However, in order to build a case, specific criteria must be met.

According to the American Bar Association, you must first be able to prove that you are the owner of the copyright in question. This means you are either the author or creator, or that ownership has been transferred to you. You must also be able to prove that the subject matter falls under the umbrella of something that can, indeed, be copyrighted. If the material has a registration certificate from the U.S. Copyright Office, this can serve as proof of ownership.

Next, you must be able to show evidence that the work of the defendant actually copies original elements from your own. Not only do you have to show that the other person copied your work, but that it was an improper appropriation of those elements.

Unfortunately, simply resembling your work is not enough to show that the defendant copied your material. Evidence such as an admission, video or photo evidence or even witness testimony is ideal. If this is not available, however, proving that the defendant had access to your work while also showing the similarities between the two pieces can also be used as evidence.

If you cannot prove that the other person has had access to your intellectual property or that it is likely they have come across it at some point, it is difficult to prove that his or her work was not created independently of yours. However, if your work has been widely dispersed or been made available for public viewing, it is possible the defendant saw it without realizing and was influenced, resulting in replication of certain components. Even if this was done in an unintentional manner, it is still considered copyright infringement. 

This post is meant as an educational piece only and should not take the place of professional legal counsel.

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