At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What are the Penalties for Online Copyright Infringement?

M. Lupica
M. Lupica

The penalties for online copyright infringement vary based on the type of infringement and if it was found to be willful. Generally, the civil penalties will either be the copyright owner’s actual damages suffered due to the infringement if they can be determined by the court, or statutory damages as deemed applicable by the law. Further, the court will issue an injunction, or court order, to cease the infringing activity, may order the impounding of the infringing articles, and may order the payment of attorneys’ fees for the plaintiff. If the infringer is found to be criminally liable for online copyright infringement, penalties generally garner significant fines, prison time, or some combination thereof.

If the court can determine the real damages suffered by the copyright owner, they will do their best to have the actual amount paid by the party who committed the online copyright infringement. However if the true amount cannot be determined, then the court usually has discretion to institute penalties as they see fit. The more overt and willful the act of infringement, the higher the penalties will typically be for the infringing party. Courts also have the discretion to reduce penalties in the case that the infringer had no reason to believe that they were committing online copyright infringement.

Making unauthorized copies of movies for friends is a form of online piracy.
Making unauthorized copies of movies for friends is a form of online piracy.

In all cases, the court will issue an injunction ordering that the infringer cease infringing activity, usually meaning that the copyrighted material be removed from public access lonline. If there is a risk that the infringer will continue to distribute or otherwise use the infringing articles in a manner that will cause further harm to the copyright owner, the court may order that the infringing articles be impounded, or seized by the court. The infringing party may also be required to pay the copyright owner’s reasonable attorneys’ fees in the case of willful online copyright infringement.

In the United States, online copyright infringement may result in criminal penalties of a fine or prison time if the infringement meets a few requirements. First, the infringement must have been committed for the purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain. In addition, the infringement must have been a distribution that collectively amounted to a certain total retail value, or was knowingly prepared for commercial distribution by making it available on a computer network that was accessible to members of the public.

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Making unauthorized copies of movies for friends is a form of online piracy.
      By: Michael Flippo
      Making unauthorized copies of movies for friends is a form of online piracy.