Copyright infringement is not merely a civil violation of the law; it can be a crime. In this day and age, copyright infringement can happen at the click of a button. Sometimes people do not even know that their actions can be construed as infringement, let alone criminal copyright infringement.
The following information explains what constitutes criminal copyright infringement and describes the various penalties associated with it.
What is Criminal Copyright Infringement?
Criminal copyright infringement is the same thing as civil copyright infringement, only the penalties vary. In the criminal context, for example, a person can actually go to jail.
Generally speaking, copyright infringement arises when a person violates one or more of the exclusive rights granted to a copyright owner. A person can be found guilty of criminal copyright infringement if someone else had ownership over a valid copyright and the defendant copied constituent elements of the work that were original.
For example, an author has his/her book copyrighted, but a second person copies several chapters from it without the author’s (or publisher’s) permission, and uses those chapters in a book that is independently sold as though it was original to the second person. Those actions will give rise to copyright infringement.
Remember, one of the key requirements for a valid copyright is ownership. Without proof of ownership, a prosecutor will not be able to properly prove someone’s guilt.
Ownership of a valid copyright consists of:
- Originality in the author/creator
- Material that can be copyrighted
- A national point of attachment of the work (i.e. to permit a claim of copyright)
- Compliance with relevant statutes
Additionally, proof of copying is required before someone can be convicted of criminal copyright infringement. Proof of copying is usually shown through circumstantial evidence establishing that:
- the defendant had access to the work at issue, and;
- probative similarities exist between the work at issue and the work the defendant made.
People can also be accused of copyright infringement for illegally copying protected works. Individuals who download movies or music using torrent software (“pirating”) can find themselves charged with criminal copyright infringement. More often in cases of internet piracy, the individuals may be sued in civil court. This has happened to dozens of New Jerseyans who were accused of downloading adult films produced by Malibu Media LLC and Strike 3 Holdings.
Penalties for Criminal Copyright Infringement
According to 17 USC § 506, someone who willfully infringes a copyright by any of the following ways can go to jail for up to 5 years for a first offense and up to 10 years for a second offense:
- Infringing for the purpose of obtaining commercial advantage or private financial gain
- Infringing through the reproduction or distribution (during any 180-day period) of one or more copies of one or more copyrighted works that have a total retail value of more than $1,000
- Infringing through the distribution of a work being prepared for commercial distribution by making it available on a computer network that is accessible to members of the public (so long as the defendant knew or should have known that the work was intended for commercial distribution)
Remember, contrary to popular belief, criminal copyright infringement is a big deal that carries significant penalties. Anyone charged with criminal copyright infringement should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Who Should You Contact?
If you or a loved one has been charged with criminal copyright infringement, contact the lawyers of the Rosenblum Law Firm today. Our team of skilled criminal defense attorneys will do what they can to protect your legal rights and fight to keep you out of prison. E-mail or call 888-815-364 for a free consultation.
Below are the results of a copyright infringement case we got dismissed for one of our clients who was charged with downloading copyrighted material from BitTorrent.