Law School Case Brief
Blanch v. Koons - 329 F. Supp. 2d 568 (S.D.N.Y. 2004)
Conventional authority holds that punitive damages are unavailable in copyright infringement actions, regardless of whether plaintiff is seeking statutory damages or the alternative of actual damages plus profits. However, decisions suggest that the copyright statute logically permits punitive damages in cases when the plaintiff seeks actual damages and profits, rather than statutory damages, for willful or malicious infringement.
Plaintiff Andrea Blanch, a photographer, held a copyright in a photograph she took. She filed a copyright infringement action in federal district court against defendant Jeff Koons and others, alleging that Koons copied portions of her photograph in a photograph taken by Koons. Blanch later filed a motion for leave to amend her complaint to allege a claim for punitive damages against Koons. Koons argued that, as a matter of law, punitive damages were not available for copyright infringement actions, and thus the motion should have been denied as futile.
Should the court grant the motion for leave to amend the complaint?
The district court held that statutory damages were unavailable, since the infringement commenced before the work was registered. However, in light of the speculation by one judge and the provisional holding by another judge suggesting that the copyright statute logically permitted punitive damages in cases when a plaintiff sought actual damages and profits, rather than statutory damages, for willful or malicious infringement, the court granted leave to amend so Blanch had a chance to prove malice and raise squarely the question whether punitive damages were available to her.
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