Illustration Copyright Infringement
Good illustrations can help bring ideas and stories to life, but the time and skill to create them can be significant. If your illustrations have been used in ways you didn’t consent to, illustration copyright infringement was committed and you may be entitled to recover damages.
Understanding illustration copyright law
Once you’ve created an illustration, you are the original author of that work. Whether the work is published or not, you immediately own the copyright.
According to the U.S. Copyright Act at 17 U.S.C. 106, when an illustration is copyrighted, the illustrator “owns” it and has exclusive rights to it. Those ownership rights include:
- The ability to reproduce the illustration.
- The ability to create derivative works based on the illustration.
- The ability to publicly distribute copies of the illustration via sale, transfer of ownership, or even by rental, lease, or lending.
- The ability to publicly display their illustration.
What if my illustrations were stolen before registering my copyright?
That’s ok! You still have options! If your illustration wasn’t registered with the U.S. Copyright Office before it was stolen it just means that you can only recover “actual damages” as opposed to “statutory damages.”
Actual damages are most often calculated using a illustrator’s normal license fees and/or standard licensing fees. Any profits gained from the infringement may be added to the actual damages as well. However, those numbers can be difficult to quantify, so it’s always best to copyright your work as soon as possible so you can pursue statutory damages instead.
Statutory Damages vs. Actual Damages
If a company uses your illustrations to create and sell merchandise for profit, then actual damages are quite simple to calculate. But oftentimes the actual damages are more complicated and harder to determine.
However, if your work was copyrighted before it was stolen, you can pursue the predefined range of financial damages under law 17 U.S. Code § 504(c). These are statutory damages and can be much simpler to pursue.
Amounts for statutory damages can range from $750 to $30,000. The final amount will be determined at court, but if the court deems it necessary, they can increase that number all the way up to $150,000. You can see why it really pays to protect your work BEFORE it gets stolen!
Learn more about our practice areas:
Video Footage Infringement
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