In order to properly plead a cause of action for direct copyright infringement, a plaintiff must plead ownership of a valid copyright and be able to show that the defendant copied a protectable expression or violated another right of copyright. However, just because a party was not a direct infringer does not mean that it does not have liability under copyright law.
Contributory copyright infringement is an indirect type of infringement. In order to establish such a claim, one must allege that the defendant had (1) knowledge of the infringing conduct by a third party and (2) induced, caused, or contributed to that infringing conduct. Thus, one must be able to establish the two elements of knowledge and, as the name of the claim itself suggests, contribution to the infringing conduct. Keep in mind that it is insufficient for one to merely have contributed to the general business of the infringer.
Rather, in order to be held liable for contributory copyright infringement, one must have materially contributed to copyright infringement, which has oftentimes been held to mean some sort of assistance that bears a direct relationship to the infringing acts of the direct infringer.
Just as a direct infringer of copyright is liable for either actual damages and profits of the infringer or statutory damages, one who has committed contributory copyright infringement may also be subject to the same types of damages. Therefore, it is critical that all parties’ involvement as it relates to the infringement is evaluated in order to enable decisions to be made as to what types of claims may be actionable.