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Federal copyright infringement can bring harsh penalties

Readers of this blog may remember the days of Napster and other online sites where media content, including movies and music, could be downloaded for free. What many at the time failed to realize is that those downloads were illegal, constituting copyright infringement. Although federal crackdowns have curtailed many cases of alleged infringement, the fact remains that many individuals, including several here in Washington, are accused of copyright infringement in its many forms.

Such a behavior is a criminal offense, and the penalties can be harsh. Those convicted of copyright infringement, which includes willful reproduction and/or distribution of creative works for financial gain or personal enjoyment, can face serious fines and jail time. In fact, an individual convicted of this federal crime can see up to 10 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

This can be scary for those who may not have thought that they were breaking the law. And, in fact, many of those accused of federal copyright infringement haven't committed the crime of which they are accused. However, beating such a charge can be a matter of successfully arguing over legalities, which can be stressful and confusing for those who are unfamiliar with the law.

For example, in a federal copyright infringement case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant acted willfully before a conviction can be obtained. This means that those who accidentally downloaded copyrighted material will likely avoid a conviction for this crime. Other elements of infringement deal with "reproduction" and "distribution," terms that a competent defense attorney may be able to draw into question by comparing it to the defendant's actual activities.

Failing to adequately address these issues can lead to unwanted outcomes, including prison. With so much at stake, those facing allegations of federal wrong-doing should consider whether competent legal counsel can help them protect their legal rights and their future.

Source: Legal Information Institute, "Criminal infringement of a copyright," accessed on March 17, 2017

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