You could go to jail for violating copyright law especially if the violation is willful and involves certain kinds of infringement. The copyright owner, on the other hand, benefits more when more people are facing penalties for breaking this law. A recent study found out that the number of people getting convicted of intellectual property violation has increased to 61% for the past ten years. On another thought, it is highly unlikely for one to go to jail for copyright infringement. The numbers of those who go to jail for this crime is significantly low even with the cases being on the rampant. Take an example of 2010; there were a paltry 200 criminals who were convicted for intellectual property violation, some of those cases being trademark cases.
What is Criminal Copyright Violation?
If you infringe the copyright laws, you will be sued civilly and at times prosecuted criminally for the infringing act. The civil statute of limitation is up to three years; however, there is also a five years statute of limitations for the federal prosecutor to bring the case against the offender. For one to successfully bring the copyright infringement suit, they must have registered the copyright. The prosecutor needs to table evidence that the accused knowingly infringed for their commercial advantage or to gain financially. The prosecutor should demonstrate that the offender distributed one copy or more, or phone records of more than one copyrighted work with a total retail value exceeding $1000 in the past year. They may also have distributed works that were being commercially being prepared for commercial distribution. Therefore they made the work publicly accessible on a computer network even though they know that the work was for retail distribution by the owner.
Evidence of “willfulness”
Courts say it is willfulness when a person charged with infringing copyright is given legal notice that his conduct was infringing the law. Also, if they knew that his conduct was illegal but went ahead to do it. You would be committing a crime when you pull out your phone or camera and start screening movies and recording what is playing on the screen then upload it online while ignoring many desist warnings that screening and sharing it is illegal. In such a case, the court will see that your conduct was willful.
How federal Governments Decide to Criminally Prosecute Copyright Offenders
If you have ever received the cease letter that notes criminal penalties for willful infringement you may wonder how the federal court would prosecute you for copyright infringement. You need to understand that the federal court makes these rulings carefully. All meritorious cases which fall within the parameters of the statute are seriously considered for trial. The courts more seriously consider the seriousness of the offense and if they can be a successful trial.
To know whether the offense is serious, they consider the number of copies you distributed and their worth. Federal prosecutors usually give special attention to offenders who are successfully charged civilly but continue to violate the law. If the case is to be prosecuted successfully, it will depend on the existence of legal issues or evidentiary. The prosecutor, on the other hand, needs to explain the evidence and legal issues and advocate them despite them.
Guidelines for Copyright Cases
You could refer here for some terms that may find hard to comprehend.
(a) Base Offense Level: 8
(b) Specific Offense Characteristics
1) If the violation amount (A) is over $2000 but did not exceed $5000, by the increase of levels, property destruction, theft and fraud corresponding to the amount.
2) If the crime involved publication, display, performance, reproduction or distribution of the work that is being prepared for commercial distribution, increase by two more levels.
3) If the offense, (A) involved importation, uploading, manufacture of the infringing items, or (B) the defendant would be convicted under 17 USC. The resulting offense is less than 12 levels, increase to twelve levels.
4) If this crime was not committed for commercial advantage or private financial gain, decrease by two levels but should not be less than level 8.
5) If this crime involved (A) the risk of death or bodily harm, or (B) possession of a dangerous weapon, e.g., firearm, together with the offense increase by two levels. If the new offense level is less than 14, make it level 14.
Do you need A Lawyer?
You need a federal defense lawyer by your side when you are charged with copyright violation. They will explain the law on copyright infringement much better and represent you in court. They know their way around this law and will do everything to ensure you get a fair trial, less harsh penalty or equally negotiate for an out of court settlement.