What Are The Criminal And Civil Liabilities For Breaking Intellectual Property Laws?

You live in one of the richest, most developed countries on the planet — and so you’ve probably heard news about one company suing another for copyright infringement. Perhaps you’ve heard about an inventor suing a company for violating his patent protections. Or maybe a writer sued a TV producer for stealing a book’s ideas to use in another medium. These are examples of civil litigation, though. Does anyone ever go to jail for breaking intellectual property laws? Are there criminal penalties? Where does the law stand? These are the questions we hope to answer.

Remember VHS and DVD? Yeah, neither do we. But anyone who can catch those memories will recall those copyright infringement notices at the beginning of each press of the “play” button. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for each violation plus the possibility for years of incarceration. 

Actual damages paid for violations are normally much smaller in civil court. Generally, criminal penalties are only applied when such violations are considered “willful.” Does that mean downloading a TV show or book without permission from the creator could land you in jail?

Technically, yes.

But realistically, that almost never happens. The people most likely hit with criminal copyright infringement penalties are the ones who are responsible for websites like The Pirate Bay. They’re the ones who make these thefts not only possible, but easy. 

Do you use a torrenting application to steal this type of content? You’re probably still safe — although internet service providers routinely watch out for big downloads by individuals (and more importantly, they know exactly what you steal). That means that this type of theft could make it more difficult to find a provider after the first one dumps you for too many infringements.

Now, let’s say you’re not only using torrenting applications, but are providing extra bandwidth to make the content even more accessible through uploads. Most pirates are content with downloading, but some go out of their way to disseminate the stolen materials for others. These individuals (or sometimes groups) are far more likely to see criminal prosecution for their actions. 

One federal case recently concluded with a guilty plea from U.K. citizen George Bridi. United States Attorney Damian Williams explained: “As he admitted in court today, George Bridi participated in an international video piracy ring that illegally distributed worldwide on the Internet nearly every movie released by major production studios, as well as television shows. Bridi circumvented copyright protections on DVDs and Blu-Ray discs to illegally share movies online, but he and his crew could not evade law enforcement scrutiny.”

Sound like you? Then you could be in trouble.

Criminal defense firms like www.ronaldfreemanlaw.com understand the differences between criminal and civil proceedings — and they have a good idea of what to expect and when. Not sure that the lawman is after you for possible breaches of someone else’s IP? Not to worry. Consult with a criminal defense attorney to find out more about the laws where you live. Keep calm and don’t speak with the police or investigators without counsel present. 

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