Copyfraud refers to the practice of lodging a false claim on copyright to commercially benefit and gain control over the work or works which do not legally belong to a person or entity. Jason Mazzone has introduced the term to copyright theory. At the time of coining the term he was Associate Professor of Law at a well-known law school in the USA.

Accordingly copyfraud is used to describe actions which entail claiming of copyright over material that is in public domain or on the basis of ownership regarding copies, and publishing work in public domain in another medium and then claiming copyright. According to Jason Mazzone, such attempts at copyfraud often succeed since the enforcement of the copyright laws is not strict enough and also because there is a lack of expertise regarding copyrights on such materials.

In layman’s terms, a person that claims copyright on a work which is indeed already in public domain, therefore commits copyfraud. One example of such an attempt was the instance where a company bought the right to perform a specific piece of opera at a price set as 50 000 USD. After more than a year of performances, the company gained information leading them to realise that the right bought was on a work already in public domain.

They stopped paying royalties and were subsequently sued for the amount due. They defended their action successfully and a trial court awarded them damages to the amount of the royalties already paid. Many works have already passed into public domain and a growing number of copyfraud cases have been reported where people sell the public domain works as copyright protected material. As such they give the impression that they have copyrights over the works and are thus entitled to compensation and with that commit copyfraud.

This has become a huge problem on the Internet over the past few years, robbing society from free access to classic works. Contact us at Smit & Van Wyk Intellectual Property Attorneys for legal guidance and litigation assistance regarding copyfraud cases.