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Copyright Infringement defenses - Equitable estoppel

Posted by Steve Vondran | Jul 02, 2020

Attorney Steve® - Copyright Essentials- Defenses - Equittable Estoppel

copyright affirmative defenses

Equitable estoppel is a defense to copyright infringement. See Kramer v. From the Heart Prods., Inc., 300 Fed. Appx. 555, 556 (9th Cir. 2008).  Equitable estoppel is intended to prevent parties from taking advantage of the law where a party “has so conducted [itself] that it would be contrary to equity and good conscience” to permit the party to prevail. See Granite State Ins. Comp. v. Smart Modular Techs., Inc., 76 F.3d 1023, 1027 (9th Cir. 1996).

Equitable Estoppel is an "affirmative defense" to copyright infringement, which means the defendant has the burden to PLEAD and PROVE the defense applies.  Here is a general overview of what's needed.

To establish the defense of estoppel, four elements must be present:

(1) the plaintiff must know the facts underlying the defendant's alleged infringement,

(2) the plaintiff must intend the defendant to rely upon the plaintiff's conduct or must act in a way that gives the defendant the right to believe plaintiff intended reliance,

(3) the defendant must be ignorant of the true facts,


(4) the defendant must rely on the plaintiff's conduct to its detriment.

There must be a showing that the Company acted in a manner calculated to mislead.  See Hampton v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 279 F.2d 100, 104 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 364 U.S 882, 81 S. Ct. 170, 5 L. Ed. 2d 103 (1960). and Bob's Big Boy Family Rests. v. NLRB, 625 F.2d 850, 854 (9th Cir. 1980)

An example would be a copyright holder (let's say someone that holds the rights to a song/lyrics and they say "go ahead, it is okay to perform my song at the Bar and Grill."  Then, after you do it, he sues you for copyright infringement.  You relied on his statement and now are forced to incur damages and attorney fees and respond to a federal court lawsuit.

Requires more than "a Plaintiff merely not suing other infringers"

See Bangkok Broadcasting ., 742 F. Supp. 2d 1101, 1116 (C.D. Cal. 2010) (denying summary judgment on the defendants' equitable estoppel defense finding the fact that the plaintiffs never did anything to stop the defendants from distributing the plaintiff's television program for several years did not amount to knowledge or permission to copy or distribute, and “the evidence establish[ed] that [the plaintiff] sent multiple notices indicating that it objected to [the defendant's] copying and/or distribution of it copyrighted programs at issue.”).  This case comes from the Central District of California where our firm handles many copyright infringement litigation cases (over 150+).

Contact a California Copyright Infringement Defense Law Firm

We are licensed to practice law in California and Arizona.  We have also been admitted to federal courts in Texas and New York and Arizona.  Contact us if you are a Plaintiff or Defendants involved in a copyright dispute, software licensing investigation, audit (ex. Autodesk or Business Software Alliance), or infringement case involving videos (ex. Strike 3 Holdings or Malibu Media), films, photographs, computer fonts, computer software, jewelry, architectural design, music or other copyrighted content.  We offer free initial evaluations and low flat rate (predictable legal fees).  Call us at (877) 276-5084 or email us through our contact form.

About the Author

Steve Vondran

Thank you for viewing our blogs, videos and podcasts. As noted, all information on this website is Attorney Advertising. Decisions to hire an attorney should never be based on advertising alone. Any past results discussed herein do not guarantee or predict any future results. All blogs are written by Steve Vondran, Esq. unless otherwise indicated. Our firm handles a wide variety of intellectual property and entertainment law cases from music and video law, Youtube disputes, DMCA litigation, copyright infringement cases involving software licensing disputes (ex. BSA, SIIA, Siemens, Autodesk, Vero, CNC, VB Conversion and others), torrent internet file-sharing (Strike 3 and Malibu Media), California right of publicity, TV Signal Piracy, and many other types of IP, piracy, technology, and social media disputes. Call us at (877) 276-5084. AZ Bar Lic. #025911 CA. Bar Lic. #232337

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