Copyright Infringement: Understanding State and Federal Laws

Copyright infringement is a serious violation of intellectual property rights that occurs when someone uses, reproduces, or distributes copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright owner. In the United States, copyright protection is governed by both state and federal laws. Understanding the interplay between these laws is crucial for safeguarding creative works and addressing instances of copyright infringement. In this article, we will explore the state and federal laws related to copyright infringement and their significance in protecting the rights of creators.

Federal Copyright Law

The primary framework for copyright protection in the United States is provided by federal law, specifically the Copyright Act of 1976. Under this act, copyright is automatically granted to original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium, such as literary works, music, films, visual arts, and software. Federal copyright law establishes exclusive rights for copyright owners, including the rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and perform their works.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), enacted in 1998, is a significant federal law that addresses copyright issues in the digital age. It provides a framework for protecting copyrighted works online and outlines safe harbor provisions for online service providers (OSPs). The DMCA requires OSPs to promptly remove infringing content upon receiving a valid takedown notice from a copyright holder.

State Copyright Laws

While federal copyright law sets the foundation for copyright protection in the United States, individual states may have additional laws and regulations that complement or supplement federal laws. State copyright laws primarily focus on areas not covered by federal law or provide additional protection for certain types of works.

State laws may address issues such as moral rights, the protection of unpublished works, specific provisions for the protection of works of visual arts, and contractual disputes related to copyright licenses. Some states have laws that protect the rights of performers, including actors, musicians, and other artists, providing them with additional protections beyond federal copyright law.

State laws also play a role in enforcing copyright infringement cases. Civil remedies for copyright infringement, such as damages and injunctive relief, can be pursued in state courts. State laws may also define criminal penalties for severe cases of copyright infringement.

Interplay between State and Federal Laws

The interplay between state and federal copyright laws is important to understand when dealing with copyright infringement cases. In general, federal copyright law preempts state laws when they conflict or contradict federal provisions. However, state laws can complement federal law by offering additional protections or addressing specific areas not covered by federal statutes.

In cases of copyright infringement, federal courts have jurisdiction to hear and decide copyright-related disputes. Federal courts have the authority to interpret and apply federal copyright law, ensuring consistency in copyright protection across different states.

It’s important to note that while copyright protection is automatic upon the creation of an original work, registering copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office provides additional benefits. Federal registration is a prerequisite for filing a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court and allows copyright owners to seek statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.


Copyright infringement is a significant concern for creators and copyright holders, and both state and federal laws play critical roles in protecting their rights. Federal copyright law establishes the foundational framework for copyright protection, while state laws can provide additional provisions and remedies. Understanding the interplay between these laws is crucial for effectively addressing copyright infringement cases and safeguarding creative works in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

At our law firm, we help clients navigate through the legal obstacles. Please do not hesitate to contact our intellectual property attorneys for any questions.