Assuming the following:

  1. Alice has drawn a painting.
  2. Bob has somehow (legally) gotten a photo/copy of this painting, but does not have any additional rights.
  3. Bob then goes on to publish this image on his Creative Commons Zero blog. (Not thinking about the fact the doesn't have the permission to publish the photo under CC0)
  4. Charles finds the photo which has been clearly published under CC0 and uses it somewhere else

Obviously what Bob did was wrong. There is no question about that, but under US law, what are the consequences for Charles? And who is liable for the damages Charles' causes? Bob or Charles?

A friend of mine was 'Charles' in this type of situation and he resolved it with 'Alice' super nicely (Alice wrote him asking/questioning whether he had permission to use it, Charles explained where he got it and agreed straight away to pay Alice for her work, as Alice was nice enough to just ask for a very reasonable sum), but we ended up wondering whether if 'Charles' would've wanted to be an asshole, whether he could've just put the blame completely on Bob and just stopped any further infringements.

The more I think about it, the more I am confused by this, as I assume Charles would probably be liable no matter what, but if that were the case then a nefarious Alice could intentionally instruct an anonymous nefarious Bob to publish all her works everywhere.

2 Answers 2


Both Bob and Charles are liable for infringement in the US. The fact that Charles had no idea that Bob was an infringer is not a defense, but it mitigates the statutory damages consequences for him. Either party can negotiate with Alice after the fact for a license, and Alice can grant either party but not the other permission to copy. The terms of the license that Alice gives Bob could either allow CCo reposting, or some more restrictive redistribution right. If the license requires a notice prohibiting further redistribution and Bob omits that notification, Bob will have breached the terms of the license in omitting the notification, so we're back to square 1. If Alice fails to specify a no-redistribution notification condition on Bob's reposting, Alice may have granted an implied license to the world, a matter which has to be determined by the courts.


If Alice instructed Bob to publish her works under a license X, then it would indeed be validly published under that license, and Charlie would be allowed to use it if the license allows it. If Alice then pretends she knows nothing about this and demands money from Charlie, that would be fraud.

Google for Prenda Law, a law firm doing something very similar, leading to huge fines, disbarment, and jail sentences.

But if it was just Bob on his own messing things up for everyone, then Charlie is infringing on Alice’s copyright. If his believe that he was allowed to make copies is reasonable, that would help in court to avoid punitive damages. What your friend did, negotiating with Alice, was probably the best thing to do.


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