Say I create a product that I release for free and take no profit in any way. If this product somehow violates the copyrights or trademarks of another company, is there risk of needing to pay for damages to that company?

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    ............. of course.
    – user428517
    Mar 29, 2018 at 22:36
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    Note that there are two very different questions in your subject and in the question body: 1) can you be sued, 2) do you need to pay. Question #1 is trivial: in many jurisdictions, anybody can sue anyone for anything, so the answer is "Yes". Winning a case, however, is a different matter. can sue you for violating my copyright. But, I'm going to lose because I cannot prove it (and I cannot prove it, because you didn't actually do it). But still, I can sue you. Mar 30, 2018 at 0:18
  • Not quite an answer to the question in your body, but it does apply. If your product causes damages of any kind -- say, you give away a car whose brakes don't work, you pretend the car is totally fine, and it crashes when driven -- you can obviously be sued for the damage that causes (and possibly arrested, not sure of the laws in that situation). The tricky thing is that "damages" are defined fairly broadly, so it's not always as cut-and-dry.
    – anon
    Mar 30, 2018 at 0:33
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    @JörgWMittag You know, I see that hair splitting a lot. When someone who is not a legal expert asks, "Can you be sued?" they obviously mean awarded damages. If you have to say something, instead of going on about, "Oh, your questions are different," just note that technically "sue" means to bring a lawsuit to court (or whatever is the precise description), not necessarily award damages (maybe note that you could be out money from fighting the case even if you win) and leave it at that.
    – jpmc26
    Mar 30, 2018 at 20:09

2 Answers 2


Yes. Money damages can be awarded in this circumstance and would likely be awarded if the infringement was found to have occurred and not to have been fair use.

Even in the absence of proof that any profits are made, there are statutory damages that can be awarded on a per offense basis for copyright violations, and trademark cases in addition to having statutory violations can measure damages by harm to the trademark owner and not just unjust enrichment to the infringer.

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    Here's a simple way to think of it: If you damage someone's car, you have to pay to pay for the owner's loss of value of his car, regardless of any benefit to you in creating the damage. Likewise with intellectual property.
    – Jeffiekins
    Mar 29, 2018 at 23:29
  • @Jeffiekins: there is no "likewise with intellectual property" for any topic. There is no intellectual property, there are copyrights, patents, and trademarks, and all of them have different sets of laws and different principles. Please don't confuse them all together. Mar 30, 2018 at 2:11
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    @whatsisname Intellectual property is a recognized legal category. Sometimes you can make generalizations or draw insights about one from another.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 30, 2018 at 2:55

Yes. Even if you didn't profit from the violation, the company may have incurred losses because of it (e.g., lost sales because somebody was giving away copies of their product for free).

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