Before the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., which ruled that courts should exercise equitable discretion when considering whether to issue permanent injunctions in patent infringement cases, courts routinely granted injunctions in copyright cases when plaintiffs proved that defendants had infringed or had likely infringed copyrights. Such findings triggered presumptions of irreparable harm, which were almost never rebutted. Only rarely would courts consider a balancing of hardships or effects of injunctions on public interests.
In the first several years after eBay, commentators reported that eBay had had little impact on the availability of injunctive relief in copyright cases. However, after a key Second Circuit ruling in 2010 concluded that eBay requires plaintiffs to prove all four factors and that eBay had overturned presumptions of irreparable harm, courts have dutifully followed the dictates of eBay and have more frequently denied injunctions in four types of cases: (1) when copyright owners failed to offer persuasive evidence of irreparable harm and/or inadequacy of legal remedies, (2) when a balance of hardships favored defendants, (3) when public interests would be better served by denying the requested injunctions, and (4) when the plaintiff was seeking to vindicate non-copyright interests. While injunctions are still quite common in simple piracy cases, eBay has radically changed the injunctive relief calculus for copyright plaintiffs.
Although numerous private law scholars have criticized eBay for its departures from traditional principles of equity, this Article explains why the post-eBay copyright rulings comport with those principles. It concludes that the eBay four-factor test has had, by and large, salutary effects on the exercise of equitable discretion in considering injunctions in copyright infringement cases. eBay notwithstanding, there are numerous reasons why courts in copyright cases continue to be reluctant to grant damage-only awards. After eBay, courts have eschewed categorical pro-injunction rules and induced them to carefully tailor copyright infringement remedies.