NCCCO discusses the fundamental benefits of registering copyrights.
December 2021—One of the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators’ (“CCO”) most valuable assets is its intellectual property. In order to protect its intellectual property, CCO registers and enforces the copyrights it holds for secure examinations, score sheets, handbooks, and other examination materials. CCO currently holds a portfolio of more than 400 registered copyrights, in both secure examinations and non-secure examination material.
Although registering a work is not mandatory, for U.S. works registration is essential to enforcing the exclusive rights of copyright through any litigation. There are multiple benefits of registering copyrights, including:
- Public notice/legal evidence of ownership—provides proof of ownership, relieving this legal burden.
- Validity—registration demonstrates the validity of the copyright.
- Statutory damages—without a timely registration, a copyright holder is limited to actual damages in the case of infringement. With a registration, the copyright holder is entitled to statutory damages (without further proof) and attorneys’ fees.
- Ability to bring an infringement suit—without registration, a copyright holder cannot bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement.
What Is “Copyright Infringement”?
Copyright infringement is defined as the unauthorized use of copyrighted material that violates one of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights, such as the right(s) to use and distribute the copyrighted work. Examples of copyright infringement can include: (1) memorizing exam questions and answers while testing and then writing them down to share later, also known as “harvesting”; (2) taking pictures of exams; and (3) reciting the specific content of secure examinations with colleagues or training providers.
Even if questions are not copied word-for-word, content that is sufficiently similar and derived from an actual exam is still considered copyright infringement. Some years ago, a test preparation company was found to have committed copyright infringement based on its handwritten notes reconstructing secure test questions after taking a secure examination.
Copyright infringement can result in litigation and damages. In such cases, both the person sharing copyrighted material and the person receiving it can be guilty of copyright infringement, even if neither party is aware that the material was protected by registered copyrights. “Innocent infringement” is difficult to prove and is often misunderstood. It is not a defense to liability; at best, it can reduce the statutory damages awarded by a court.
In serious cases, if copyright infringement is in fact deemed to be “willful”—meaning that a person was knowingly infringing—it can also make the party liable for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per violation, as well as attorneys’ fees.
Consequences of Infringement
CCO actively investigates potential copyright infringement. In 2020 CCO was forced to file suit against a training provider in federal court, asserting claims of copyright infringement and seeking nearly $2 million in statutory damages, as well as attorneys’ fees.
That said, one of CCO’s missions is to stimulate training, and CCO considers training to be a vital part of the certification process. Training providers and others who independently develop content to prepare persons for CCO examinations, using applicable industry standards and similar available content, are performing an essential service. Developing such content is not considered copyright infringement, even if it uses language from the same industry standards.
Ultimately, it is CCO’s objective to avoid controversies or disputes over its copyrights. Content creators are encouraged to document the valid sources of their materials, and persons are urged to contact CCO with any questions that may arise about materials in question.