Millions of dollars or nothing seems to be the range. It is a very common question on sites and the magazine site also. It is much harder to determine than one might think. First point do you have the ability to sue? If the images are registered then yes, if not you can still sue for DMCA violations. The best solution, register your images. That solves that problem. Next is the idea of when you find out and if publication becomes an issue. Many seem to think it means someone put it on the internet. Not so fast. The only person who has that right is the copyright holder or persons properly licensed to do so by the copyright holder. The other issue with publication is the definition. The copyright law has its own definition.
What is publication?
Publication has a technical meaning in copyright law. According to the statute, “Publication is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending.
USCO Office and Title 17 US Copyright Law.
Notice the” for sale, transfer of ownership, lease, lending or rental” all acts legal only by the copyright holder. That means each violation that happens before or within 90 days of publishing can have damages up to $ 150,000.00 per image. If they have never been published by the owner they have not be published. Putting them up for display, sale or sharing by a person infringing the images does not constitute publishing by law.
This is how cases reach the millions of dollars in damages as this is just the copyright portion of the damages. Then if you add any DMCA violations you have serious damages.
One case of mine has over 30 images that fall into both categories. That makes the maximum damages in the millions of dollars for the copyright violations alone. Add the DMCA damages and it grows by almost another million dollars. It also puts people into criminal violation territory. The minimums puts the damages well over a hundred thousand dollars. Now you start to see the importance of registering your work. Even without the copyright infringement the figure for the DMCA has a range of $ 80,000 to $ 800,000, no small range but it clearly shows how serious it is taken.
Another working case has 17 that also include DMCA violations. This is also why it takes a long time to close cases as people fight very hard to keep from paying the damages. Settlements are really pushed by the courts because it frees up their times and they do not have to impose huge damages. One reason you do not see a lot of case law on DMCA violations is that they are pretty cut and dry. The images do not lie. Either you did it or you did not. If you did, no matter the circumstances you are guilty. Better to settle the whole case than pay those huge damages. You can see part of the settlement thinking process here.
As you can see the range of damages is very hard to figure without knowing all the facts and then computing them. This is the reason I tell people to ask for the maximum damages. It is better to ask for more than not enough. This way the judge or jury has plenty of room to consider their options.
These are personal opinions and general information only. These are not legal advise and should not be used as such.