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Summary of the Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws

Unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject students to civil and criminal liabilities. Students should be aware, however, that not all uses of copyrighted materials are illegal. The U.S. Copyright Act allows for the copying and distribution of copyrighted materials when such use satisfies the requirements for "fair use." More information about fair use can be found at the MIT Libraries.

As required by the HEOA, the penalties for violation of Federal copyright laws are summarized as follows.

If there is infringement, Section 504 of the U.S. Copyright Act gives the copyright holder the choice of recovering the following:

The copyright owner’s actual damages and any profits of the infringer; or

Statutory damages, ranging from $750 to $30,000 for each copyrighted work that is infringed. If the copyright holder can prove that the infringement was committed "willfully," a court has the discretion to increase statutory damages to $150,000 per copyrighted work.

As a general rule, to qualify for statutory damages, the copyright holder must have registered the infringed work with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to the date of the infringement. If the work was not previously registered, then the copyright holder can only recover actual damages and the infringer's profits.

If the work was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to the infringement, Section 505 of the Copyright Act also gives a court the discretion to award reasonable attorney's fees and court costs to the copyright holder.

Sections 502 and 503 of the Copyright Act detail other civil remedies, including a court order barring the infringer from making further copies and an order to seize and destroy unauthorized copies.

Section 506 of the Copyright Act and Section 2319 of Title 18 of the United States Code authorize criminal liability for willfully infringing copyright under the following circumstances:

If the willful infringement was for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain;

If the willful infringement involved the reproduction or distribution during any 180-day period of one or more copies of one or more copyrighted works that have a total retail value that exceeds $1,000; or

If the willful infringement involved the distribution of a work being prepared for commercial distribution, by making it available on a computer network accessible to members of the public, if the infringer knew or should have known that the work was intended for commercial distribution.

Criminal penalties can include fines as well as imprisonment for up to five years. Imprisonment can be for up to ten years for a second or subsequent offense.

 

 
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