Gene Brockland recently won a significant victory for his client, sculptor Don Wakefield, in a major copyright infringement case. Billionaire Igor Olenicoff and his Olen Properties Corporation were originally hit with a $450,000 verdict. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has now upheld the damage award, and has ordered that the infringing copies be destroyed.
The short answer is: maybe. In a 6 - 2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc. recently clarified the conditions under which the answer can be yes.
The creator of an original work that is entitled to copyright protection owns the copyright as soon as the work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. In other words, once the original work is created the copyright exists. For example, an artist has a copyright in his or her work as soon as their painting, drawing or sculpture has been created. At that point, with nothing more being done, it is not legal for anyone to copy that original work.
The federal Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. §101 et seq.) applies to a wide range of creative, intellectual and artistic forms, commonly referred to as "works." It protects written works such as books, articles, poems, plays and theses. It protects fine arts such as paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs. It protects motion pictures, choreography, musical compositions and sound recordings. It also protects industrial designs such as architectural drawings and engineering plans. In the digital age, it has come to protect computer software code.