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Copyright misuse doctrine

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Definition Edit

The copyright misuse doctrine is an equitable defense against a copyright infringement claim, based on the abusive or improper conduct of the copyright owner in enforcing the copyright.

Overview Edit

The doctrine — which has its historical roots in the unclean hands defense — "bars a culpable plaintiff from prevailing on an action for the infringement of the misused copyright." It "forbids the use of the [copyright] to secure an exclusive right or limited monopoly not granted by the [Copyright] Office and which it is contrary to public policy to grant."[1]

"Copyright misuse is a defense to a claim of copyright infringement."[2]

A finding of misuse does not, however, invalidate plaintiff's copyright. Indeed, the court in Lasercomb[3] specified that "[plaintiff] is free to bring a suit for infringement once it has purged itself of the misuse."[4]


  1. Alcatel USA, Inc. v. DGI Technologies, Inc., 166 F.3d 772, 793, 49 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1641 (5th Cir. 1999) (full-text) (citations omitted).
  2. DSC Comm. Corp. v. Pulse Comm., Inc., 170 F.3d 1354, 1368, 50 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1001 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (full-text).
  3. Lasercomb America, Inc. v. Reynolds, 911 F.2d 970, 979, 15 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1846 (4th Cir. 1990) (full-text).
  4. Alcatel USA, 166 F.3d at 792 n.81 (citation omitted).

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