In a recent Federal Court of Canada (the “Court”) decision, the Court awarded statutory and punitive damages for the copyright infringement of the popular programs Family Guy and The Simpsons.

Background

Popular animated television shows Family Guy and The Simpsons were at the centre of a recent copyright infringement action. These programs are copyright protected works owned by Twentieth Century Fox (the Plaintiff). The action was brought against Nicholas Hernandez (and other unknown Defendants), alleging that Hernandez was engaged in activities that infringed the Plaintiff’s copyright in the two programs. Subsequently, the Plaintiff brought a motion for default judgment in the case.

Federal Court

In the default judgment, the Court made its determination in view of affidavit evidence and on hearing submissions made by the Plaintiff’s counsel.

First, the Court confirmed that copyright subsists in each of the Family Guy and The Simpsons programs and that Twentieth Century Fox is the owner of this copyright.

As well, the Court declared that Hernandez had infringed the copyright in these programs. Particularly, the Court stated that Hernandez had:

  1.  copied The Simpsons and Family Guy programs from television broadcasts and other media;
  2. copied the programs onto a computer system;
  3. uploaded the unauthorized copies to computer file servers;
  4.  created links to the unauthorized copies;
  5. communicated the programs to the public in Canada and elsewhere by telecommunication; and
  6. enabled the public to infringe the copyright in the programs by downloading, streaming and/or copying the content of the unauthorized copies through the Internet.

Additionally, the Court found that Hernandez’s infringement was done in bad faith and for commercial purposes.

Damages

Although the Plaintiff elected for statutory damages, the Court decided that those damages alone would not be sufficient in this case due to Hernandez’s “repeated, unauthorized, blatant, high-handed and intentional misconduct”. Accordingly, the Court determined that in addition to statutory damages, a penalty of punitive damages was justified.

Particularly, the quantum of the damages awarded by the Court was $10 million in statutory damages and $500,000 for punitive and exemplary damages.

In addition to these damages, the Defendant was also restrained from engaging in any activities that infringed the copyright of the Plaintiff’s works, and from engaging in any Internet transmission, communication or performance of the Family Guy or The Simpsons programs. As well, the Defendant was ordered to deliver up all copies of the Family Guy and The Simpsons programs and any other related materials.

Significance

It is clear from this case that the Defendant’s conduct influenced the Court’s decision on the quantum and type of damages that should be awarded. Particularly, where the infringer financially benefits from the infringing activities and willfully continues to disregard a copyright owner’s rights, the Court will award substantial damages in order to achieve the goals of punishment and deterrence.

Sources:

  1.       “Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation v. Nicholas Hernandez, John Doe and Jane Doe”, Docket: T-1618-13, 3 December 2013.
  2.      “$10.5 Million Damages to Rebroadcast ‘Family Guy’”, IPblog, 13 January 2014, available online: http://www.ipblog.ca/?p=779.