Copyright misuse

Copyright misuse is an equitable defence to copyright infringement in the United States based upon the doctrine of unclean hands.[1] The misuse doctrine provides that the copyright holder engaged in abusive or improper conduct in exploiting or enforcing the copyright will be precluded from enforcing his rights against the infringer. Copyright misuse is often comparable to and draws from the older and more established doctrine of patent misuse, which bars a patentee from obtaining relief for infringement when he extends his patent rights beyond the limited monopoly conferred by the law.[2]

The doctrine forbids the copyright holder from attempting to extend the effect or operation of copyright beyond the scope of the statutory right. For example, by engaging in restrictive licensing practices that are contrary to the public policy underlying copyright law.[3] In fact, the misuse doctrine is said to have evolved to tackle such aggressive licensing practices.[4]


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