Summary of Civil & Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws
Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority,
one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under section 106
of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code). These rights include the
right to reproduce or distribute a copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context,
downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority
constitutes an infringement.
Penalties for copyright infringement include civil and criminal penalties. In general,
anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either
actual damages or “statutory” damages affixed at not less than $750 and not more than
$30,000 per work infringed. For “willful” infringement, a court may award up to $150,000
per work infringed. A court can, in its discretion, also assess costs and attorneys’
fees. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504, 505.
Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment
of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense.