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Copyright Infringement Twofer: Website Designer and Customer Jointly Liable

Nick Starr, doing business as Master Maintenance, hired West Central Ohio Internet Link, Ltd. to redesign and host the website for Master Maintenance’s janitorial services.

The redesigned website included four photos owned by, but not properly licensed from, Corbis Corporation.

In Fall 2006, Corbis discovered Master Maintenance’s unauthorized use of its pictures. On November 17, 2006, Corbis sent Master Maintenance a letter informing it of the infringement. Master Maintenance directed West Central to remove the pictures, which West Central did. On December 7, 2007, Corbis filed suit for copyright infringement against Master Maintenance and West Central (Corbis Corporation v. Nick Starr).

West Central was found directly liable for copyright infringement, in that it made unauthorized copies of Corbis’s photos.

Master Maintenance was found vicariously liable because Master Maintenance received a financial benefit from the direct infringement and had the right and ability to stop or limit the infringement but failed to do so.

Finally, both defendants were found jointly and severally liable, i.e., each will be liable for up to the full amount awarded to Corbis, once that amount is determined.

What we should learn from this case:

  • When you build a website, be sure that you have the right to use any photos, graphics or other copyrighted works that you want to include.
  • If either the designer or the customer will be contributing copyrighted works to a website, the parties’ agreement should require the contributor to indemnify the other party against any liability arising from claims alleging infringement of intellectual property rights in the works.
  • Even if you respond promptly and appropriately to a cease-and-desist letter, you still can be liable for infringement that has already occurred.
  • If you own copyrights in works that are subject to misappropriation, conduct routine checks to identify such misappropriation.
  • When two parties have a role in copyright infringement, they will be jointly and severally liable for that infringement.

This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.