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Copyright litigation refers to a dispute in court over a copyright. A copyright provides legal protection for intellectual property. In other words, copyright vests the exclusive rights to own, distribute and profit from a work of art.
Copyrights are distinct from trademarks, which protect identifying marks, and from patents, which protect inventions. Copyrights protect the rights of authorship; art, music, written stories or poems and expressions of ideas are protected. Ideas and concepts themselves are not protected, only the way in which those ideas are expressed or presented.
When a person owns a copyright, he or she has the exclusive right to the protected material. He can sell or distribute it himself or authorize others to do so. If someone uses the artistic work without permission, this is a violation of copyright laws and copyright litigation can result.
During copyright litigation, the owner of the copyright must demonstrate that the defendant took his work illegally. He usually must demonstrate some damage as well, such as a limitation on his own ability to profit from the use or sale of the authored work. The copyright owner must also prove that the theft is an actual violation of copyright laws; in other words, he must prove that what the defendant took is protected by the copyright the owner owns.
The defendant has several potential defenses during copyright litigation. Mainly, the defendant can attempt to prove fair use. Fair use is a limitation on copyright law protected by the First Amendment's rights to free speech in the United States Constitution.
Fair use protects a person's right to reprint some or all of a piece of copyrighted work to criticize the work or comment upon the work. For example, a book reviewer can quote from a book to review it or a person making a parody of a book can use certain excerpts from the book. Fair use also entitles an individual to borrow some ideas and concepts from copyrighted material as long as that work is sufficiently changed and added to in order to constitute a new piece of authorship.
Copyright laws are derived from federal laws within the United States, so copyright litigation must take place on the federal level instead of in state court. Most often, both parties in copyright litigation are represented by attorneys who specialize in copyright law. If the defendant who allegedly violated the copyright laws loses in litigation, he may have to pay damages to the plaintiff or may be ordered to stop distributing or taking from the copyrighted material.