When companies, small businesses, artists or entrepreneurs come up with an idea, they likely want to protect that idea, as it is very vital to the success of their brand, company or business operation. This is where a copyright can come into play. A copyright is a form of intellectual property protection, which is provided by U.S. laws. This form of protection is available for authors of original works that are fixed in tangible form, whether it is published or unpublished. This includes works such as paintings, literary works, live performances, photographs, movies and even software.

While a copyright is used to protect works, this does not mean the work is entirely safe. Someone might attempt to steal the work, not upholding the terms of the copyrighted work. This is known as copyright infringement, and it is considered a white-collar crime.

What is copyright infringement? This occurs when anyone violates the exclusive rights of the copyright owner. The legal or beneficial owner of a copyright is entitled to take action when an infringement occurs. In some cases, the owner of the copyright might be required to serve a written notice and file a complaint. In addition to suing in a civil action, the person accused of copyright infringement may face criminal penalties as well.

Criminal infringement occurs when a person willfully infringes a copyright for the purpose of commercial advantages or private financial gain, by the reproduction or distribution during a 180-day period with a retail value of more than $1,000 or by the distribution of work prepared for commercial distribution is made available on a computer network that is accessible to the public and the person knew or should have known it was intended for commercial distribution.

Those accused of copyright infringement could face both civil and criminal penalties, creating a very overwhelming and difficult situation for the accused. Thus, defendants should take the time to fully understand the matter, becoming aware of their rights and ability to establish a criminal defense.

Source: Copyright.gov, “Chapter 5: Copyright Notice, Deposit, and Registration,” accessed March 25, 2018