What is criminal copyright infringement? Criminal copyright infringement is a violation of federal law when a person intentionally uses or distributes another’s copyrighted material for financial gain.
Copyrights protect the author’s ideas and controls their material up to 70 years after their death, or less if the author is a corporation. The protection covers writing, music, artistic works, and digitally stored material including books, songs, poetry, art, films, graphic designs, computer software, website content, and architecture.
Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, discoveries, concepts, or theories that are not written down in physical form.
While most copyright infringement is between two private parties (a civil matter), it can rise to criminal charges when the government takes action because the illegal use or sharing of copyright material is done on purpose. The FBI has recently made ‘intellectual property’ theft a priority of its criminal investigative program.
To prove criminal copyright infringement charges, the government must produce evidence of 4 things: (1) the author had a valid copyright; (2) the defendant used, copied, or distributed the material without the author’s permission; (3) it was done on purpose; and (4) it was done for personal financial gain or business advantage.
Felony charges can be filed when 10 copies of a copyrighted work are reproduced or distributed with a retail value of more than $2,500. Misdemeanor charges can be filed with just 1 copy and retail value of $1,000. This is a very low threshold for the government to pursue criminal copyright infringement charges and why you should hire experienced defense attorneys.
You can face severe penalties if convicted of criminal copyright infringement including:
Prison – You can be sentenced up to 10 years for a felony conviction or for 2nd offenses; up to 5 years if the offense involves 10 copies or value greater than $2,500; or up to 1 year when 1 or more copies has a retail value greater than $1,000. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, sentences can be increased when infringement involves devices that bypass security (e.g. video game copiers), defendant plays a leadership role in the offense, risk of death or serious injury, or possession of a dangerous weapon. Sentences may be reduced if participation is minimal.
Fines – You can be fined $250,000 for a first offense involving 10 copies or value greater than $2500. Fines increase to $500,000 when the offense involves bypassing security controls and $1,000,000 if it is a subsequent offense. You can also be fined for using a false copyright notice, for removing a copyright, and for false representations on a copyright application.
Restitution – You may be required to repay financial losses to the artist as a result of your copyright violation.
There are several possible defenses to prove your innocence:
We have successfully represented clients in federal criminal cases across the United States. Our firm has offices in Atlanta GA, Alexandria VA, and Washington DC, and we frequently travel to other federal courts to represent people in serious federal criminal cases.
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