Christian Radio Station Guilty of Copyright Violations

Conviction leads to more than $50,000 in damages.

Church Law and Tax 1993-07-01 Recent Developments

Copyright Law

Key point: Persons and organizations that “willfully infringe” upon the copyright of another can be assessed statutory damages of up to $100,000 per violation.

A religious radio station that broadcast copyrighted religious music without permission was found guilty of “willful infringement” and was assessed statutory damages of $52,500. The station manager admitted that he played copyrighted songs on the radio, and that he had no license or permission to do so. He defended his actions by noting that “the artists have publicly stated their intent to minister through their Christian music” and that “their intent to minister is further accomplished by radio stations broadcasting their music to a listening audience.” The court rejected this reasoning and assessed statutory damages of $52,500 against the station for willful copyright infringement. The court based this result on 15 proven infringements at $3,500 each. The court also ordered the station to pay the attorneys fees the copyright owners incurred in maintaining their infringement lawsuit. This case serves as a useful reminder of the consequences associated with the willful infringement of another’s copyright. It is common for church leaders to assume that they can infringe upon religious music or literature at will since the writers and composers of such material obviously had a religious motivation and in effect have “donated” their work to the church. Not only is this assumption inappropriate, but as this case demonstrates, it can lead to statutory damages for willful infringement. Meadowgreen Music Company v. Voice in the Wilderness Broadcasting, Inc., 789 F. Supp. 823 (E.D. Tex. 1992).

See Also: Infringement

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