In a recent opinion, Seoul Broadcasting System Intl. v. Ro, an Alexandria U.S. district court granted Plaintiffs a permanent injunction and ordered steep damages against the defendants who were repeat copyright infringers and willfully ignored cease and desist letters, signifying a focus on deterrence to protect copyrights of businesses.
Plaintiffs Seoul Broadcasting Corporation, Mun Hwa Broadcasting Corporation, and KBS America, Inc., profit from the sale and licensing of DVDs and videotapes of their proprietary programming and distribute Korean-language television programming in the United States.
Plaintiff accused Defendants, Daewood Video, Inc. and owner Young Min Ro., Korean Korner, Inc., Sun Yop Yoo, of illegally distributing television programming. All Defendants are or were previously in the business of renting or selling videos and had past licensing agreements with Plaintiffs which had expired or were not renewed.
The current opinion is a result of a bench trial held on the issue of damages and other relief. The court previously granted summary judgment of copyright infringement in favor of Plaintiffs.
In copyright actions, courts traditionally grant permanent injunctions if liability is established and there is a continuing threat to the copyright. Opinion at 14, quoting Dea Han Video Prod., Inc. v. Chun, et al., No. 89-1470-A, 1990 WL 265976 at *1311 (E.D. Va. June 18, 1990). The court decided to issue a permanent injunction in this case because the Daewood defendants, with assistance from Korean Korner and Yoo, infringed Plaintiffs’ copyrights continuously over a period of more than a year. And Defendants, save one, all had a history of unlawful copying and selling Korean video programming. Moreover, the ease of making the copies made it more likely Defendants would infringe in the future if a permanent injunction was not entered.
The court considered in depth the damages award. Statutory damages in copyright infringement cases, according to 17 U.S.C. § 504, are significantly higher if the court finds the infringement was done willfully. The damages imposed may be up to $150,000 per act of infringement. Opinion at 16.
“Willfulness may be inferred where there is evidence that infringements continued after warnings or cease and desist letters from the plaintiff.” Opinion at 16, citing Masterfile Corp. v. Dev. Partners, Inc., No. 1:10cv134, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100857, 14-15 (E.D. Va. Aug. 16, 2010). All Plaintiffs had sent cease and desist letters to Young Min Ro, owner of Daewood Video.
The court awarded monetary damages, with a significantly higher damages award against Daewood Video, Inc. and owner Young Min Ro due to previous copyright infringement violations and because the court found that they acted willfully by refusing to follow the cease and desist letters. Daewood and Ro, jointly and severally, were ordered to pay $555,000.00. Defendant Yoo, the one defendant without a history of copyright infringement, was ordered to pay a considerably less amount of $16,951. These disparate amounts and steep fines for Daewood and Ro suggest the court’s unyielding desire to deter repeat violators from ignoring laws set up to protect businesses.
A question is whether courts will use refusal to follow cease and desist letters as a justification for high damages awards in suits other than those involving copyright issues