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Copyright Law and Criminal Penalties

The issue of copyright law has come under a great deal of discussion in recent years. Advances in technology, including digital reproduction and online file sharing, have turned piracy into a household term ‒ and activity.

The federal government and state attorneys have not slowed up in their pursuit and prosecution of individuals or companies who are guilty of copyright infringement.

A conviction for copyright infringement can carry extremely high fines. If you’re facing copyright infringement charges, a criminal defense attorney may be your best asset in fighting these charges. To connect with an attorney near you, simply fill out the form on this page.

On this page, you can expect to find an overview of U.S. federal laws concerning piracy, as well as some of the criminal penalties that can be expected for violating them.


U.S. Copyright Law ‒ A Brief Summary

Copyright law in the United States is based on Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. However, it wasn’t until more recently that violations of copyright law carried criminal penalties.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 made it illegal to sell devices that enable the violation of copyright laws as well as provided legal harbor for Internet service providers who comply with certain guidelines to escape penalties for users who violate copyright laws.

A newer law, the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005, criminalized filming movies in a theater and early release movies, music and software before they are made available to the public. The act also protects movie theater personnel from civil and criminal charges while questioning or detaining suspects of piracy while police are summoned.

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Copyright Infringement Criminal Penalties

The penalties for piracy of any artistic medium are great, and you may be familiar with some of them if you’ve read the FBI warning played at the beginning of most VHS or DVD movies.

  • For the first piracy offense: a fine of up to $500,000 and a jail sentence of up to 5 years.
  • For repeat piracy offenses: a fine of up to $1 million and a jail sentence of up to 10 years.

These are only criminal penalties, and do not include the results of any civil lawsuits filed over copyrighted material. Companies or individuals holding copyrights on items such as music, movies or software may also seek an injunction against the person or company violating the copyright as well as actual and statutory damages.

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P2P File Sharing and Internet Piracy

With the advent of Internet file sharing technologies such as peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, the ease of producing and distributing illegal copies of music, movies and software has grown to unprecedented proportions.

Powerful industry trade groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have engaged in a high-profile battle against copyright violations over the Internet.

A widely-criticized assault on individuals has resulted in more than 20,000 lawsuits. In some cases, the RIAA have sued individuals for hundreds of thousands of dollars for only a few pirated files. To date, only a small percentage of these cases have been settled or dismissed; the majority of them are still pending.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Lawyer about Piracy and Copyright Legal Charges

Copyright law is one of the most misunderstood legal areas, mainly due to evolving Internet technology. Many federal and state laws are trailing techniques for reproduction and distribution of pirated music, movies and software by a wide margin.

Talking to a criminal defense lawyer if you are facing criminal charges of copyright infringement can be a valuable resource as you proceed with defending yourself in court.

Simply fill out our free case evaluation form or call 877-445-1059, and connect with a local criminal defense attorney who can help you examine your case as soon as possible.

The above summary is by no means all-inclusive and is not legal advice. Laws may have changed since our last update. For the latest information on these laws, speak to a local criminal defense lawyer in your state.


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