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It is easier than you think to infringe on a copyright

Everyone knows the classic way to violate a copyright, downloading music. Downloads violate copyrights because in addition to stealing an idea, federal law also prohibits using a copyright in a manner not prescribed by the copyright holder. This means that republishing material and posting material could also violate copyrights. Republishing material could be as sinister as stealing someone’s article or as innocent as using a photo from Google image search.

Copyrights are protections for original creations of literary, visual, auditory and artistic expressions. So things like stories, articles, pictures, sculptures and movies are all protected by copyrights. Federal law provides both civil remedies and criminal penalties. There are two methods for calculating the criminal penalties either:

  • The actual damage to the copyright holder and any profit the violator may have made from the violation.
  • The statutory penalty.

If the prosecutor opts for the first option, then the violator must provide copies of their bank records to establish how much, if any, profit was made. The victim must also provide business records to show the extent profit made by the infringing party owing to the violation. The disgorged profits must be money made independently from any harm that the victim may have suffered.

The infringing party could face a fine that can be anything between $750 and $30,000 per violation. A copyright is violated every time it is used improperly. So this can occur if the violator uses the same material across multiple mediums or platforms. It also occurs if the violator utilizes multiple copyrights from the same holder.

Needless to say, these penalties can increase very rapidly. For example, downloading 10 songs illegally and assuming the minimum penalty of $750, results in $7,500 in fines. The judge may also order restitution to the victim if the violation was intentional.

Depending upon the prosecutor, something as innocent as reposting a photograph could result in dire consequences, so take these charges seriously and retain an experienced attorney. Don’t risk your freedom because you may not think this is a big deal.


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