United Media's second letter

Date:         Fri, 26 Jul 1996 11:50:30 -0500
Subject:      Unauthorized display of Dilbert
To:           dwallach@CS.Princeton.EDU
Cc:           jboulin@unitedmedia.com, jonathans@unitedmedia.com

I am legal counsel for United Feature Syndicate, Inc., which does business as United Media. You have been advised by UM (rather nicely, I might add) that you are infringing upon UM's rights to Dilbert on your Web site. I have also reviewed your response to UM's letter in which you indicate that you do not view your display of the Dilbert comic strip to be an infringement, presumably because you inline it directly from UM's home page to your site.

Legally, your position is wrong and there is a plethora of legal authority to that effect. The law has long recognized that stealing someone else's transmission is an illegal infringement of the rights in the transmission. (I wonder how NBC would feel if you inlined its Olympic coverage and broadcast it on another medium or station.) As I'm sure you are aware, you can't preform or replay a musical composition owned by someone else without paying a royalty or it constitutes an infringement under the Copyright Act. Since the Copyright act prohibits the unauthorized display of a copyrighted work, your inlining of Dilbert is a violation of the Act.

I am quite confident of UM's legal position. If you persist in your use of Dilbert, you will leave UM no choice but to bring suit. If UM prevails in that suit, as I believe it will, you will have to pay damages and probably attorneys' fees. As you probably learned when you were reviewing the Copyright Act, the Copyright Act provides for statutory damages, that is damages that UM would be entitled to even without showing actual damages (such as lost profits). In the case of infringements after notice (as is the case here) statutory damages can be as high as $100,000 per infringement. Prevailing parties are also entitled to attorneys' fees under most circumstances.

Consequently, if it turns out you are wrong, it cost you a lot of money. UM would prefer not to sue but if you don't stop infringing it will have no choice but to bring suit.

I would appreciate it if you would obtain legal counsel, discuss this matter with your lawyer, and advise me whether you have changed your position.

Thank you for your consideration.

Dan Wallach, CS Department, Rice University
Last modified: Sun Aug 04 20:06:40 1996