Read the text of the U.S. Copyright Act that pertains to penalties and infringement.

Copyright infringement is the reproduction, distribution, performance, public display, or derivation of a copyrighted work without the explicit authorization of the copyright owner. Infringement is a serious offense that violates any one or more of the exclusive rights granted to copyright owners.

Types of Infringement

Copyright infringement comes in three forms - direct, vicarious and contributory.

Direct Infringers

... violate a copyright owner's exclusive rights.

Vicarious Infringers

... may have the right to control infringing activities.
... may expect to profit or benefit from the infringement.
... may actively operate or supervise a place where infringement occurs.
... may control the content of the infringing program.

Contributory Infringers

... are aware that infringement is taking place.
... encourage, cause or contribute to infringement. 

Penalties & Remedies

All copyright owners have the right to seek recovery of actual damages and lost profits when infringement takes place. Infringement disputes are heard in federal court, and when the plaintiff prevails, the court may:

  • issue an injunction.
  • impound and dispose of infringing articles and equipment such as molds, master tapes, negatives, etc.
  • award actual damages and lost profits proven by the plaintiff.
  • impose criminal penalties when infringement is willfully committed for commercial advantage or financial gain or when in a 180-day period, copyrighted works with a retail value of $1,000 or more are reproduced and/or distributed.

If the violated work has been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, the courts may also:

  • award statutory damages ranging from $750 to $30,000 for the infringement of any one work, and up to $150,000 in the case of willful infringement.
  • award attorney's fees and costs.

In cases where the defendant proves that he was unaware that he was infringing on copyright, the court has the option of reducing statutory damages to an award of not less than $200.

Non-Profit Educational Institutions

Copyright law further limits remedies that may awarded in the event of unintentional infringement on the part of employees of non-profit public broadcasters or educational institutions (i.e. colleges, universities, libraries, archives). A court shall remit statutory damages as long as the employee is acting within the scope of his job and believes that his use of the copyrighted material was protected by fair use.