A quick verdict by a Manhattan jury last week cost Soul Temple, Wu- Tang Clan rapper RZA’s record company, $200,000 after jurors found the label guilty of willfully infringing on artist Lyle Owerko’s copyrighted work. The lawsuit stemmed from the record label’s use of two images of vintage boomboxes produced by Owerko from his “Boombox Project.” The images were taken from an Internet search and featured on Wu-Tang rapper U-God’s 2013 solo album and promotional merchandise.
While Soul Temple conceded infringement of the images, the record label contested the issue of willfulness. Bob Perry, Soul Temple’s former general manager, said the “label grabbed the images from thousands available on the Web without realizing that they were copyrighted.” The jury, however, appeared unconvinced, as it found the label guilty of willful infringement in only 40 minutes or so of deliberation.
Under the Copyright Act, a court may enhance statutory damages for “willful infringement.” While a court may increase damages, the Act does not define “willful infringement.” Generally willfulness may be based on actual or constructive knowledge of infringement or on a defendant’s reckless disregard of the holder’s rights.
Besides taking the images off the Internet, failing to license them, and using them for the album cover, it is unclear what evidence was presented to show actual or constructive knowledge of infringement. It is possible the jury found Soul Temple’s failure to even look up the work’s creator, combined with the Internet taking and featuring it in the album’s art work/ iTunes cover as reckless disregard for the holder’s rights. This expensive lesson for Soul Temple led to one of its managers stating he will “certainly be more diligent when it comes to sourcing and selecting images for inclusion in my album packaging in the future.”