What happens if you break copyright laws?

Updated February 21, 2017

Copyright laws are laws that govern the reproduction of original creative works. Original creative works include literature, poetry, music and fine art. When a person creates an original work, he is automatically granted a copyright as the creator, but that copyright is unregistered. To protect copyrights, registration is important, as it officially documents the work and provides a much greater deal of legal weight than an unregistered copyright. A copyright may be violated whenever someone other than the copyright holder makes an unofficial reproduction of the work---for instance, downloading a song online without paying for it.

Civil Lawsuits

Since the creation of the internet, copyright infringement has become increasingly common. The internet allows for unofficial reproductions of original works to be distrusted widely and fairly anonymously. While the majority of copyright law violations may go undetected or unpunished, copyright holders have the right to seek damages against those who violate their rights in the form of a civil lawsuit. Lawsuits are most commonly served against distributors of copyright content or people that have produced copies or have profited from reproductions rather than individual users viewing or using copies that others have provided. Those found guilty of infringement may be fined damages as well as fined for legal fees. Depending on a country's intellectual property laws, there may be criminal trial and possible jail sentencing or fines for copyright infringement.

Fair Use and Public Domain

Fair use is a legal concept that allows copyrighted works to be copied to a limited extent for the purpose of parody, satire, and social commentary. What constitutes fair use and what does not is often subject to speculation and disagreement. Some works are said to be part of the public domain. The public domain is a group of works for which there are no copyright restrictions. Copyright holders can elect to give their work up to the public domain and allow other people to make copies of the work.

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About the Author

Gregory Hamel has been a writer since September 2008 and has also authored three novels. He has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from St. Olaf College. Hamel maintains a blog focused on massive open online courses and computer programming.