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Bell v. Mattox

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

February 12, 2019

RICHARD N. BELL, Plaintiff,
JOAN MATTOX Default Entered 8/13/2018, Defendant.



         This cause is before the Court on Plaintiff's First Motion for Default Judgment [Dkt. 10], filed on August 22, 2018. Plaintiff Richard N. Bell filed his complaint asserting one count of copyright infringement against Defendant Joan Maddox. Ms. Maddox has not filed an answer or other responsive pleading nor defended this action in any way. A Clerk's default was entered against Ms. Maddox on August 13, 2018 [Dkt. 9]. Mr. Bell now seeks a final default judgment against Ms. Mattox for $150, 000.00 in statutory damages plus $407.92 in costs as well as injunctive and declaratory relief. For the reasons detailed below, we GRANT Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment and award damages in a lesser amount than prayed for.

         Factual Background

          This is one in a long series of cases brought by Plaintiff about which the underlying facts are essentially identical. In March 2000, Mr. Bell, an attorney and photographer, took a photograph of the Indianapolis, Indiana, skyline (“the Indianapolis Photo”). The Indianapolis Photo was registered on August 4, 2011 with the United States Copyright Office. Mr. Bell has used the Indianapolis photograph in advertising to promote his photography business and has made the photograph available for commercial use on his personal website at the cost of a $200 license fee. In this lawsuit, Mr. Bell alleges that Ms. Mattox willfully and deliberately downloaded or took the Indianapolis Photo from the internet without his permission and without paying the licensing fee.

         On April 5, 2018, Mr. Bell discovered that Ms. Mattox had published the Indianapolis Photo on her website,, which he claims violated his exclusive rights as the copyright owner. Ms. Mattox began publishing the Indianapolis Photo on her website as early as December 2015, permitting third parties to access the site and copy the photograph to their computers, and has continued to display the copyrighted photograph on her website apparently through the present day. See Ready Made Resources, (last visited February 11, 2019). Ms. Mattox's website does not disclose the source of the Indianapolis Photo or otherwise credit Mr. Bell. Rather, at the bottom of the page, the website states: “Copyright 2012 - Ready Made Resources, ” falsely representing that Ms. Mattox owns the copyright of all content, images, and photographs on the site. Id.

         According to Mr. Bell, Ms. Mattox refuses to pay the licensing fee for the Indianapolis Photo and has not agreed to be enjoined from displaying it on her website. Mr. Bell alleges that Ms. Mattox's copyright infringement was and is willful.

         Legal Analysis

         I. Applicable Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55 governs the entry of default and default judgment. An entry of default may be entered against a party who has failed to plead or otherwise defend herself. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Once the clerk enters default, it is within the court's discretion whether to enter a default judgment. See O'Brien v. R.J. O'Brien & Assocs., Inc., 998 F.2d 1394, 1398 (7th Cir. 1993). “A default judgment establishes, as a matter of law, that [a] defendant[] [is] liable to plaintiff on each cause of action alleged in the complaint. Wehrs v. Wells, 688 F.3d 886, 892 (7th Cir. 2012). “Upon default, the well-pled allegations of the complaint relating to liability are taken as true, but those relating to the amount of damages suffered ordinarily are not.” Id. (citation omitted). Accordingly, “[d]amages must be proved unless they are liquidated or capable of calculation.” Merrill Lynch Mortg. Corp. v. Narayan, 908 F.2d 246, 253 (7th Cir. 1990).

         II. Discussion

         To establish copyright infringement, a plaintiff must prove: “(1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original.” Design Basics, LLC v. Lexington Homes, Inc., 858 F.3d 1093, 1099 (7th Cir. 2017), reh'g and reh'g en banc denied (July 10, 2017) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Here, Mr. Bell's complaint alleges that he is the sole owner of a registered copyright in the Indianapolis Photo; that Ms. Mattox downloaded or otherwise took the photograph from the Internet and published the photograph on her website without permission and without paying for it; that Ms. Mattox falsely indicated that she owned the copyright to all content on her website; and that Ms. Mattox's conduct violated Mr. Bell's exclusive rights as owner of the copyright. These allegations are sufficient to establish Ms. Mattox's liability for copyright infringement.

         A copyright owner suing for infringement “may elect . . . to recover, instead of actual damages and profits, an award of statutory damages . . . .” 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)(1). Such damages may be “in a sum of not less than $750 or more than $30, 000 as the court considers just.” Id. But “[i]n a case where the copyright owner sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds, that infringement was committed willfully, the court in its discretion may increase the award of statutory damages to a sum of not more than $150, 000.” Id. § 504(c)(2).

         “A defendant commits willful infringement . . . if the defendant had ‘knowledge that [her] actions constituted an infringement,' which may be constructive knowledge inferred from the defendant's conduct.” Microsoft Corp. v. Ram Distrib., LLC, 625 F.Supp.2d 674, 682 (E.D. Wis. 2008) (quoting Knitwaves, Inc. v. Lollytogs Ltd., 71 F.3d 996, 1010 (2d Cir. 1995)). “A plaintiff can prove willfulness by offering circumstantial evidence giving rise to an inference of willful conduct by the defendant, even if there is no evidence establishing [her] actual knowledge.” Id. (quoting Island Software & Comput. Serv., Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., 413 F.3d 257, 264 (2d Cir. 2005)).

         Here, we find that Mr. Bell's complaint alleges sufficient facts to fall within the definition of willfulness. By placing the statement “Copyright 2012 - Ready Made Resources” at the bottom of the website that included the Indianapolis Photo, Ms. Mattox represented that she possessed the copyright for all content found on the website, including the Indianapolis Photo. She would have known that representation was false when she made it. This deliberate action by Ms. Mattox of placing such common copyright language on the bottom of her website plainly asserts that she possessed the rights to Mr. Bell's ...

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