What Are the Punishments for Breaking Copyright Laws?

Written by brian gawley | 13/05/2017
What Are the Punishments for Breaking Copyright Laws?
Copyright protects author's works. (black copyright symbol image by Angie Chauvin from Fotolia.com)

Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects original authorship, both published and unpublished, for literary, musical, artistic and dramatic works. This can include novels, musical scores, songs, movies, poems, or even architecture. Penalties for infringement of a registered copyright include an injunction, impounding and destruction; and damages, both actual and punitive, including attorney fees and other legal costs.

Copyrights Usually Last 70 Years

An artist's work is copyrighted from the moment it is created, but to bring an infringement lawsuit for a U.S. work, it must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Generally, works created after January 1, 1978, are protected for 70 years after the author's death. Protection for works created prior to that varies depending on several factors such as the original copyright date, whether it was renewed and whether the author or descendants still are alive.


Title 17 Chapter 5 Section 502 of the U.S. Code (The Copyright Law of the United States of America) allows civil courts to grant temporary and permanent injunctions, effective anywhere in the United States, to stop copyright infringement.

Impounding And Destruction

Federal copyright law also allows courts to impound the offending works, including all copies made or used in violation of the copyright plus any plates, moulds, master tapes, source files or film negatives used to produce copies.

Courts also can impound records documenting the manufacture, sale or receipt of the offending works but must ensure protection of confidential information they contain. These can be destroyed as part of the court's final judgment.

Actual And Punitive Damages

What Are the Punishments for Breaking Copyright Laws?
Authors can seek monetary damages for copyright infringement. (Row of Stacks of One Hundred Dollar Bills image by Andy Dean from Fotolia.com)

Federal copyright law allows authors to seek both actual damages (including forfeit of profits) and punitive damages for copyright violations plus all attorney fees and court costs. The punitive damages can range from £487 to £19,500 but can be up to £97,500 if the court declares the person acted wilfully. The court also can reduce the damage award to as low as £130 if the person was not aware of the infringement.

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