In 2013, when the copyright troll-cum-corporate lawyer Robert Erikson sued Warner Bros. over a cartoon, he said Warner Bros had breached his copyright.
And then, just three months later, Warner Bros lost the case.
The court found Warner Bros liable, but Eriksson’s team appealed, and the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Eriksons favour.
It said Eriksos legal action against Warner Bros was “entirely without merit”.
“If you’re a small business and you don’t own your copyright, you don-t have the right to sue,” Erikso said.
So how do you get around the law that protects copyright?
“The only way to do it is through a ‘claim’.
A ‘claim’ is basically a written agreement between you and your copyright owner that says what you’re going to do with that copyright,” says the copyright lawyer Andrew Denton.
“If someone comes to you and says ‘I’m going to take this and use it for a movie, you’re liable to me’,” says Denton, “then you can sue them for that.”
You can even sue the film studio itself, if you believe the film infringed your copyright.
“A claim can be filed in a court, you can file a claim with the copyright owner, and then you can go to a court to enforce it,” says Denny.
“So there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t sue a copyright holder for infringement.”
In practice, a claim may be filed by a copyright owner against a third party.
“An infringement claim is a formal process where the copyright holder provides a formal document, usually a copyright notice, to the defendant,” says Jules Eriksen, the former chief copyright officer for Sony.
“In the case of Warner Bros, we made a claim for infringement against Warner Brothers, and it was accepted by the court,” he says.
So, what about other cases?
In recent years, Hollywood has had to be more cautious about suing people who own other kinds of property.
“For example, I’ve got this big movie which I think is stolen,” says Eriksman.
“It’s a very big movie, I mean it’s a $100 million film.
I have a copy of the film and I’ve copied it.
And I’ve done a lot of research, I’m a huge fan of the movie.
I can’t see what they’ve done to the copy.”
And, if it was a copyright infringement claim, you may not even have to pay up.
“There is a way to sue people who hold other kinds to copyright for copyright infringement,” says lawyer David Schlesinger.
“Basically you have to be able to prove that it was done by someone other than the owner of the copyright, for example, and that the owner did not know what was happening to it,” he explains.
And, in this case, Schlesings lawyer says the evidence doesn’t show that the copy of this film was stolen.
“But there’s no way that the copyright holders would have allowed it to be released without the owner knowing,” he adds.
How about for movies that are made in China?
“There’s a law in China that says if you have a Chinese copyright in the movie, then you have no copyright in it,” explains Schlesing.
So what’s the next step?
“What I recommend is that you do this in a very limited situation, and you have some kind of notice to the Chinese owner, for instance,” says Schlesening.
“You can say ‘You can’t release the film because you’ve stolen my copyright’,” says Schlenings.
“Then you can pay the damages to the movie maker and then take the film away from them.”
And if it’s still a small company, you’ll have to go to court to prove the infringement.
But in the meantime, you could be in the clear.
“As long as you’re aware of your rights, you should never infringe,” says Mr Erikss lawyer.
“I would advise that people, in situations where they don’t have to deal with other people, don’t worry about that.”
And as long as they don.