Contributory Infringement

What is Contributory Infringement?

Contributory infringement, also known as indirect liability or indirect infringement, refers to the indirect, intentional infringement of intellectual property. In these cases, one may be held liable for infringement even if he or she did not actively participate in infringing activities. For instance, a business may be sued for infringement if it knowingly gave other people access to an infringed product.

Contributory infringement can be detrimental to a company’s intellectual property. As contributory infringers often know their actions are illegal, they tend to receive harsher legal penalties than other intellectual property violators. Copyrights, patents and trademarks are all protected by contributory infringement laws. 

Key Takeaways

  • Contributory infringement, also referred to as indirect liability or indirect infringement, is indirect yet intentional infringement of intellectual property.
  • In contributory infringement cases, one can be held liable for intellectual property infringement even if he or she did not actively engage in infringement.
  • It must be proven that the alleged contributory infringer was aware that his or her actions would lead to infringement.
  • The contributory infringer must be proven to have been aware that his or her actions would lead to infringement.

Contributory Infringement and Online Marketplaces

As online marketplaces continue to develop and become more popular, they become a potential site for contributory infringement. A contributory infringement claim in an online marketplace requires the intellectual property owner to prove that the website operator knew that the infringement was occurring. As an example, let’s refer to a well-known contributory infringement case, Mask v. Sports Illustrated. In this case, plaintiff Brian Masck sued Amazon for selling unauthorized photographs that he took. Although Amazon claimed that they couldn’t be held liable for the thousands of products sold on their website, Masck proved that he had asked Amazon to remove the pictures from the site. The court eventually ruled that Amazon knew the infringement was occuring, knew it was illegal, and provided an environment for direct infringers to sell.

Contributory Infringement Legal Penalties and Damages

Contributory infringement lawsuits can result in a variety of legal penalties. In these cases, it must be proven the infringer was aware of the illegal activity, which, depending on the circumstances, can result in even more severe penalties than in direct infringement cases. Penalties may include fines, civil damages, and in extreme cases, serious criminal penalties. While every contributory infringement case is different, additional monetary damages may be available to plaintiffs, including:

  • Court costs
  • Attorney costs
  • Punitive damages
  • Defendant’s profits for selling the infringed item

Bottom Line

Contributory infringements are serious violations that can result in harsh legal consequences. If you are experiencing any issues associated with intellectual property law, especially contributory infringement, you should contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible. By working with your attorney, you can maximize your chances of a successful outcome in these cases.

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