seoul broadcasting Sysem v. John Kim Sang

Plaintiffs own registered copyrights for works including serialized television shows. Defendant is the owner of Eden, a video store that the defendant converted to a health food store. Defendant continued to rent and sell DVDs that were left in the store from the previous owner. Plaintiffs and the previous video store owners had an agreement allowing the previous owners to copy and sell DVDs. Plaintiffs never entered a similar licensing agreement with defendant. Defendant admits to receiving and ignoring cease-and-desist letters from plaintiffs.

Copyright owner filed suit against competitor under the Copyright Act of 1976 alleging unauthorized reproduction, rental, and sale of copyrighted television programs. Parties consented to final judgment by a magistrate judge. Copyright owner moved for summary judgment.

Is defendant liable for the copyright infringement and what damages can be awarded? Defendant does not dispute the infringement but contests the extent of damages requested by the plaintiffs.

The judge held that the copyright owner could elect statutory damages instead of actual damages at any point prior to the final judgment, that the owner was entitled to statutory damages per work, or episode, infringed, but not per DVD or copy of work made, rented or sold, and a factual issue still existed as to how many copyrighted works had been infringed.

First, plaintiffs own valid copyrights for at least three television episodes which are at issue in the case. Second, defendant engaged in unauthorized copying of the copyrighted works as evidenced by defendant’s own admissions. There is no genuine issue of material fact as to copyright infringement. Plaintiffs have met their burden and entitled to judgment on their MSJ. As for damages, the Act allows the copyright owner to elect between recovery of actual damages plus profits or statutory damages. Plaintiff elected for statutory damages, and defendant argued that because actual damages can be easily ascertained, plaintiff should be limited to actual damages. Statutory damages are to be awarded per work infringed, regardless of the number of times the work was infringed. Damages are entitled to the same SJ burden as copyright infringement, and there is still a genuine issue of material facts regarding the number of works actually infringed. Summary judgment was granted as to liability and denied as to damages.

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