Breach of copyright laws

The Copyright Act is contained in Title 17 of the United States Code. When a creator copyrights his work, he is granted several exclusive rights set forth in Section 106 of the Copyright Act. They include: 1) the right to copy the work; 2) the right to distribute or sell the work; 3) the right to perform or display the work in public; and 4) the right to create a derivative or follow-up work based on the original. Any violation of those rights is a breach of the copyright, also called infringement.

Breach of Copyright

Under Section 501 of the Copyright Act, any person who uses a copyrighted work in violation of the copyright owner’s Section 106 rights is in breach of the copyright and can be civilly sued for copyright infringement. During an infringement lawsuit, the court may issue an injunction preventing further use or distribution of the infringer’s work. All copies of the work and any materials used to reproduce the work may be seized and impounded until the conclusion of the trial. If a court determines that the infringer’s work does breach the copyright owner’s rights, all impounded materials are destroyed.


When a court finds that a copyright has been breached, damages are awarded in two ways. The court may award damages totalling the copyright holder’s loss in profits, as well as any profits earned by the infringer. However, if those damages are difficult to calculate or a copyright holder believes those damages are minimal, he may choose to have the court order statutory damages. In that case, the court will examine all circumstances of the infringement and set the award at more than £19,500. Additionally, if a copyright holder can prove that the infringer acted intentionally in breaching the copyright, the damage can be up to £97,500.


Copyright infringers can claim one defence, called “fair use.” This means that the infringer admits he breached a valid copyright, but that the use was for an accepted purpose. The fair use defence is available when a copyrighted work was used for educational purposes or for the infringer to criticise or comment on the copyrighted work. In order to determine if the breach of copyright is fair use, a court will examine several factors found in 17 USC 107. They are: 1) how the copyrighted work was used by the infringer, especially whether a profit was made; 2) how much of the copyrighted work was used; and 3) whether the infringing work affected the profits earned by the copyright holder on his own work.

Criminal Penalties

A common breach of copyright today is the pirating of CDs and DVDs. This type of copyright infringement also leaves a violator open to criminal penalties. If an investigation reveals that a breach of copyright is part of a large-scale commercial pirating enterprise, the infringers will be prosecuted criminally. As of 2010, criminal copyright infringement is punishable by a £162,500 fine and no more than five years in prison.

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About the Author

Bernadette A. Safrath is an attorney who has been writing professionally since 2008. Safrath was published in Touro Law Center's law review and now writes legal articles for various websites. Safrath has a Bachelor of Arts in music from Long Island University at C.W. Post, as well as a Juris Doctor from Touro College.

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