Copyright infringement

From TrainSpottingWorld, for Rail fans everywhere
The Cathach of St. Columba, a seventh century book of psalms. Tradition cited it as the book whose illicit transcription by Saint Columba in 560 AD led to the overturn of an Irish copyright ruling by force of arms.[citation needed]
A 1906 advertisement for copy protection against pirates when registration formalities were still required in the US

Copyright infringement (or copyright violation) is the unauthorized use of material which is covered by copyright law, in a manner that violates one of the original copyright owner's exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce or perform the copyrighted work, or to make derivative works.

For electronic and audio-visual media, unauthorized reproduction and distribution is occasionally referred to as piracy or theft (an early reference was made by Alfred Tennyson in the preface to his poem "The Lover's Tale" in 1879 where he mentions that sections of this work "have of late been mercilessly pirated"). The legal basis for this usage dates from the same era, and has been consistently applied until the present time.[1][2] Critics of the use of the term "piracy" to describe such practices contend that it unfairly equates copyright infringement with more sinister activity, though courts often hold that under law the two terms are interchangeable.[3]

Methods of copyright infringement

The unlawful downloading of pornography and sharing of recorded music in the form of MP3 and other audio files is more prominent than ever, even after the demise of Napster and a series of infringement suits brought by the American recording industry. Promotional screener DVDs distributed by movie studios (often for consideration for awards) are a common source of unauthorized copying when movies are still in theatrical release, and the MPAA has attempted to restrict their use. Movies are also still copied by someone sneaking a camcorder into a movie theater and secretly taping the projection (also known as "CAM"), although such copies are often of lesser quality than copied versions of the officially released film. Sharing copied music is legal in many countries, such as Canada, and parts of Europe, provided that this information is neither advertised, nor that the songs be sold.

Bootleg recordings are musical recordings that have not been officially released by the artist or their associated management or production companies. They may consist of demos, outtakes or other studio material, or of illicit recordings of live performances. Music enthusiasts may use the term "bootleg" to differentiate these otherwise unavailable recordings from "pirated" copies of commercially released material, but these recordings are still covered by copyright despite their lack of formal release, and their distribution is still against the law.

People illegally selling copyrighted material are known to peddle VCDs, CDs, and DVDs by the roadside, market, night market, Pasar malam, etc. in some countries.[citation needed]

The illegal use of text content is a form of copyright infringement. It is common on the world wide web for text to be copied from one site to another without consent of the author. Roberta Beach Jacobson criticizes the misappropriation of writers' work by websites in her article Copyrights and Wrongs. This article was added to[4] on November 27, 2001; ironically, it has since been copied to hundreds of websites,[5] many of them claiming copyright over the work or charging money to access it.


Template:Globalize/Northern Though many jurisdictions impose penalties for certain blatant acts of copyright infringement and may try to stop certain infringing imports at the border, copyright infringement is still mainly prosecuted through private lawsuits by the copyright holder or their exclusive licensees. When successful, these lawsuits will typically impose monetary damages against the infringer as well as injunctions against future infringing uses.

Many infringement claims involve simple cases of copyright infringement where the copying is obvious. Others, however, are more difficult to resolve because the scope of copyright is not limited to exact copying. It is inevitable that creative works will take inspiration from the culture at large, and it is often challenging to determine when this "inspiration" has crossed the line into infringement, especially in the case of musical works. There also may be a question of whether the allegedly infringed work is even covered by copyright. Works which aren't covered may include, for example, compilations of facts that lack the requisite creativity to be covered by copyright, or those works that are in the public domain because the copyright term expired.

Copyright notices—often just a simple statement on the work itself of the year protection was acquired and by whom—are not always a good indication of whether a work is covered by copyright because most countries do not require such formalities, and so lack of notice does not mean it is not copyrighted. Courts may also subsequently decide in the context of an infringement suit that the work did not meet the minimum criteria for being covered by copyright, even if the work had been previously registered by a government or private copyright agency. However, copyright notices give at least some indication of whom to contact if permission is needed, and when a copyright will expire, though the copyright terms of pre-existing works are sometimes legislatively extended (as with the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act) or even restored after expiration (as with the Directive on harmonising the term of copyright protection in the European Union).

To avoid infringement claims, the right to make use of a copyrighted work can be acquired through an explicit contract or license with the author or publisher, through purchasing a lawful copy (which may provide a number of rights to the purchaser, as under the first-sale doctrine), and for certain types of media, statutory licenses (such as for reproducing and recording musical works under U.S. copyright law). Even without going through such channels to get prior authorization for use of the copyrighted material, doctrines such as fair use or fair dealing may provide potentially broad defenses to infringement claims. The failure of a copyright holder to bring a timely lawsuit against known infringers may later block such a claim by establishing an implied license, as may other acts or omissions that could informally signal consent to use the work.

Copyright misuse, the exploitive or restrictive use of a copyright by its legal holder, is sometimes informally called reverse piracy.



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Copyright holders and pro-copyright organizations commonly release statistics showing their estimated lost revenue due to copyright infringement in an attempt to deter the activity. For example, the MPAA estimated the global cost of the unauthorized copying of films in 2002 was $3.5 billion.[6] More recently the MPAA estimated that the global cost of unauthorized copying of films in 2005 was $18.2 billion. Many have been critical of these figures, as it is unreasonable to assume that every download of a film represents one fewer movie ticket or DVD being purchased: a person who downloads a film may not necessarily have gone to the theater or have purchased a DVD had the download not been available. Furthermore, there are instances of films benefiting from the exposure, particularly independent and cult films.

In general, there are a number of rationales used by people making "unauthorized" copies of works to philosophically, constitutionally, or morally justify their actions, though not all engaged in the activity do so. Copyright advocates generally dismiss the validity of these claims.

  • Many people object to the application of copyright to not for profit (or at a loss) distribution or redistribution of copyrighted works. When copyright was created, it was to prevent book publishers from taking an author's work, publishing it, and making profits from the sales of that work without giving a cent back to the author. However, when financial gain isn't involved, as in peer-to-peer file sharing, many feel that copyright is absurd, as no one is truly gaining from the distribution, because ideas, which copyright "protects", are naturally free, just as speech is naturally free—unless the creator of the ideas chooses to keep them secret and outside of public knowledge and distribution. In a similar vein, some argue that since sharing a copy of their data costs nothing, it would be unethical to not share when someone else asks for a copy.
  • Copyright infringement is sometimes claimed as a form of boycott. For example, selective copying of music published by major record labels can be used to protest the low percentage of total record sales that is paid back to artists.
  • With the try before you buy mentality, if a downloaded album, film or piece of software is deemed useful the person will then buy it, otherwise it is deleted.
  • Conversely, some choose to download only those products which they would otherwise be unable to afford, reasoning that in so doing they do not damage any company's profits.
  • Many legal products are unavailable in parts of the world, as they are often too expensive for most of the local population to afford. In much of the third world, even people who could normally afford to buy legitimate products can't do so, as unauthorised versions are the only versions available.
  • The free spread of media stimulates the industry both by creating new artists and exposing new people to current artists.
  • Musicians tend to make the bulk of their profits from concerts, rather than the low percentage of sales given to them by their recording companies. Increased exposure is likely to lead to more people going to see live music and therefore, indirectly, copyright infringement might lead to greater profits for the actual artists.

Copyright advocates point to an economic argument called the free rider problem to explain the moral downside to copyright infringement. This argument is usually used by economists to describe the disadvantage of collective action because even when use of a product has no cost to the companies associated with its production as theft does, it is claimed that the lack of financial contribution from the person infringing the copyright reduces the company's incentive to continue development. [citation needed]

Sample Troll

Recently, certain companies have been purchasing portfolios of old music copyrights for the express purpose of enforcing those rights when a musician samples said old music for a new composition. These companies have been referred to by the pejorative term "Sample Troll." Their role in copyrights is seen to be analogous to the role of so called patent trolls in the patent arena.[7]

Worldwide collaboration to fight copyright infringement

Servers enabling internet-based copyright infringement are often based in countries with less strict copyright laws or enforcement history.[8][9][10] BPI spokesman Matt Phillips has said the lax copyright laws in Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet countries made it hard to crack down on copyright infringement there.[11] Copyright holders are collaborating to fight this activity, through lobbying governments and other means.

  • Russia agrees with US request to shut down[12]
  • China signs Memorandum of Understanding to help fight online copyright infringement with US Media Association.[13]


File:Piracy is a crime - Unskippable Anti-Piracy track.png
A short information film included on many DVDs equates piracy with theft.
File:Ty copy infringement.jpg
Two "strikingly similar" plush toys; infringement established. Appendix page 1 Ty, Inc. v. GMA Accessories, Inc. 132 F.3d 1167, 1174 (7th Cir. 1997).

The most important international treaty concerning copyright infringement is the Berne Convention of 1886 as amended. The United States finally became the 80th signatory of the treaty with the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, over 100 years after the passage of the original treaty in Paris. The US signed the treaty with one important exception: it did not accept the recognition of moral rights in article 6 of the Berne Convention. Moral rights enable a copyright holder to "object to any distortion, mutilation, or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to, the said work, which would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation."[14] The US expressly stated in the Implementation Act that no other right (i.e. the 1st Amendment) shall be impacted by acceptance of the Convention. Literary criticism and parody are important parts of the US infringement defense of fair use. Consequently, the US provides less protection from infringement of moral rights than other Berne signatories.

In most jurisdictions, copyright infringement may be established by reproduction of the copyrighted work. This reproduction can often be shown by the presence of an unauthorized electronic copy of the work on a server.

The infringement suit in American law

American law requires a copyright holder to establish ownership of a valid copyright and the copying of constituent elements of the work that are original.[15]. Assuming the plaintiff proves ownership of a valid copyright, the holder must then establish both actual copying and improper appropriation of the work. The burden lies with the plaintiff to establish these three elements in what is known as the prima facie case for infringement.

First element: establishing ownership of a valid copyright

A plaintiff establishes ownership by possession of (1) an original work of authorship, which is (2) fixed in a tangible medium (e.g. a book or musical recording). Registration was required under Copyright Act of 1909, but Congress eliminated this and other formalities in the Copyright Act of 1976. However registration is still useful because it gives rise to the presumption of a valid copyright, it permits statutory damages, and eliminates the innocent infringement defense.

Works that are not sufficiently original, or which constitute facts, a method or process cannot enjoy copy protection.[16]. US Courts do not recognize the "sweat of the brow" doctrine, which originally allowed protection for those who labored to collect and organize facts. To combat this, business which assemble databases of information have relied on contract law where copyright law offers no protection.[17] For a work to be original, it must possess a "modicum of creativity", a "low threshold" although some creativity must exist.[18]

Copyright protects the fixed expression of ideas, but not the ideas themselves.[19] (Ideas are protected by patents). Nevertheless, an expression must exist in a fixed tangible medium.[20] A movie script writer who discusses a plot idea which has not yet been written would not be protected if another heard his idea and wrote a screenplay himself. Whether RAM constitutes a "fixed medium" is a contentious issue in copyright litigation because of the transitory nature of RAM.[21]

Second element: establishing actual copying

A plaintiff establishes actual copying with direct or indirect evidence. Direct evidence is satisfied either by a defendant's admission to copying or the testimony of witnesses who observed the defendant in the act. More commonly, a plaintiff relies on circumstantial or indirect evidence. A court will infer copying by a showing of a "striking similarity" between the copyrighted work and the alleged copy, along with a showing of both access and use of that access.[22] A plaintiff may establish access by proof of distribution over a large geographical area, or by eyewitness testimony that the defendant owned a copy of the protected work. Access alone is not sufficient to establish infringement. The plaintiff must show a similarity between the two works, and the degree of similarity will affect the probability that illicit copying in fact occurred in the court's eyes.[23] Even then, the plaintiff must show that the copying amounted to improper appropriation. Indeed, the US Supreme Court has held that not all copying constitutes infringement and a showing of misappropriation is necessary.[24]

Third element: establishing misappropriation

A copyrighted work may contain elements which are not copyrightable such as facts, ideas, themes, or content in the public domain. A plaintiff alleging misappropriation must first demonstrate that what the defendant appropriated from the copyrighted work was protectible. Second, a plaintiff must show that the intended audience will recognize substantial similarities between the two works. The intended audience may be the general public, or a specialized field. The degree of similarity necessary for a court to find misappropriation is not easily defined. Indeed, "the test for infringement of a copyright is of necessity vague."[25] Two methods are used to determine if unlawful appropriation has occurred: the subtractive method and the totality method.

The subtractive method, also known as the "abstraction/subtraction approach" seeks to analyze what parts of a copyrighted work are protectible and which are not.[26] The unprotected elements are subtracted and the fact finder then determines whether substantial similarities exist in the protectible expression which remains. For instance, if the copyright holder for West Side Story alleged infringement, the elements of that musical borrowed from Romeo and Juliet would be subtracted before comparing it to the allegedly infringing work because Romeo and Juliet exists in the public domain.

The totality method, also known as the "total concept and feel" approach takes the work as a whole with all elements included when determining if a substantial similarity exists.[27] The individual elements of the alleged infringing work may by themselves be substantially different from their corresponding part in the copyrighted work, but nevertheless taken together be a clear misappropriation of copyrightable material.[28]

Modern courts may sometimes use both methods in its analysis of misappropriation.[29] In other instances, one method may find misappropriation while the other would not, making misappropriation a contentious topic in infringement litigation.[30]

Defenses to infringement

A defendant in an infringement action may rebut the presumption of copying by a showing of independent creation. It is possible for an author to create a work independently while bearing similarities to another. If access is not established, there is no copying, even if there is a striking similarity between the two works.[31] For this reason, corporations will destroy or return unsolicited mailings from authors as a policy.[32]

The legal doctrine of de minimis non curat lex, "the law does not care about trivial things," provides a de minimis copying defense against infringement. When the plaintiff establishes only a trivial use of the copyrighted work by the defendant, there is no infringement. For example, an out-of-focus copyrighted picture appearing only momentarily in the background of a commercial is not infringement.[33] The Beastie Boys successfully used this defense in a lawsuit over the use of three musical notes in the song "Pass the Mic."[34] The Beastie Boys had obtained a license to use the recording, but the rights to the song itself were retained by the original composer (copyrights can be divided). The court held that use of three notes was not a sufficient use and amounted to de minimis copying. However, the Sixth Circuit has held that the de minimis defense is not available for the sampling of sound recordings because of their intrinsic value in saving the sampler time and costs in hiring musicians to perform the music however short.[35]

The two most important defenses to copyright infringement are the first sale doctrine and fair use.

The first sale doctrine is a defense to infringement of the distribution right. It permits a lawful purchaser of a copyrighted work to resell or otherwise dispose of it. This, however, is not a defense to the reproduction right.

Fair use is an affirmative defense, but its application will vary greatly depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. Courts apply a four part balancing test examining the scope of infringement, the effect on the copyright owner's rights (e.g. his or her ability to sell the work), the amount of the work copied, and the purpose of the infringement. Courts have held that a non-commercial use is not fair use when it has a substantial market effect. In cases with a small-scale impact, courts are more receptive to arguments regarding the effect on the copyright owner's market or potential market.

Amendments to the 1976 Copyright Act

With the passage of the so-called No Electronic Theft Act (NET Act), US copyright law was changed to allow for the civil and criminal prosecution of persons allegedly engaged in copying of copyrighted works without permission that did not result in personal financial gain; historically, the criminal copyright law required infringement to be for financial gain. Among other things, the NET Act altered the definition of financial gain to include bartering and trading. In addition, under this US law, members of warez groups could also be prosecuted for participation in a criminal enterprise.

British law

In British Law, any modification of data stored on a computer so that unauthorised access is gained to software packages, games, movies, and music would be a criminal offence under §3 Computer Misuse Act 1990. So, if a read-only music CD is placed in a PC drive and the contents loaded into the computer's memory for playing, any crack that allows the music to be copied and stored on the machine or an MP3 player would commit the offence in theory but, so far, there have been no prosecutions on this set of facts. More generally, §16 and 20 Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 (as amended by the Copyright, However this does grant the right to create backup copies of software, so that the original can be kept safe from damage, technically meaning companies must provide either additional discs or the means to overcome any copy protection. and Trade Marks (Offences and Enforcement) Act 2002) cover copyrighted materials, and people who distribute and download copyrighted recordings without permission are liable to face civil actions for damages and penalties (the largest to date is £6,500, or $12,120.55). As in the United States, the enforcement agencies were able to identify the IP addresses and the ISPs were obliged to disclose the name and address of the owner of each such internet account but legislation was passed recently so that it isn't compulsory to hand over the information.[citation needed]

Criminal offences

For the most part, the criminal law is only used for commercial copyright infringement with one exception, and an offence is committed when, knowing or reasonably suspecting that the files are illegal copies, and without the permission of the copyright owner, a person:

  • makes unauthorised copies e.g. burning music files or films on to CD-Rs or DVD-Rs;
  • distributes, sells or hires out unauthorised copies of CDs, VCDs and DVDs;
  • on a larger scale, distributes unauthorised copies as a commercial enterprise on the internet;
  • possesses unauthorised copies with a view to distributing, selling or hiring these to other people;
  • while not dealing commercially, distributes unauthorised copies of software packages, books, music, games, and films on such a scale as to have a measurable impact on the copyright owner's business.
  • publishing someone else's original copy work and claiming you have made it. (This is known as plagiarism and is completely different to copyright infringement, but laws concerning it come under the section of copyright law in some countries)
  • Certain copyrights allow Archival copies of software to be made however these are not to be distributed.

The penalties for these "copyright infringement" offences depend on the seriousness of the offences:

  • before a magistrates' Court, the penalties for distributing unauthorised files are a maximum fine of £5,000 and/or six months imprisonment;
  • in the Crown Court, the penalties for distributing unauthorised files are an unlimited fine and/or up to 10 years imprisonment.

Also note §24 Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003 which creates a range of offences relating to the distribution of any device, product or component which is primarily designed, produced, or adapted for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of effective technological measures. When this is for non-commercial purposes, it requires there to be a measurable effect on the rights holder's business.

See also

For a substantial discussion of copyright infringement in the domain of computer programs, see copyright infringement of software.


  1. See Berne Copyright Convention, 1886: "Pirated works may be seized on importation into those countries of the Union where the original work enjoys legal protection." (Art. 12).
  2. See also Massachusetts Circuit Court Folsom v. Marsh, 1841: "If so much is taken, that the value of the original is sensibly diminished, or the labors of the original author are substantially to an injurious extent appropriated by another, that is sufficient, in point of law, to constitute a piracy pro tanto."
  3. For example, see Dowling v. United States, 473 U.S. 207 (1985), et al.
  4. Jacobson, Roberta Beach (2001-11-27). Copyrights and Wrongs. Retrieved on 2007-4-7.
  5. Results 1 - 10 of about 371 for "Roberta Beach Jacobson" "Copyrights and Wrongs". Retrieved on 2007-4-7.
  6. In this document, the MPAA claims the annual cost of copyright infringement to the US entertainment industry is $3.5 billion, but later assigns the same value to the global cost estimated in 2002.
  7. Wu, Tim. "Jay-Z Versus the Sample Troll",, 2006-11-16. Retrieved on 2007-02-05.
  8. Isenberg, Doug. "Is this the way to fight copyright infringement?",, 2002-09-04. Retrieved on 2007-02-05.
  9. "'Korean Wave' piracy hits music industry", BBC, 2001-11-09. Retrieved on 2007-02-05.
  10. "Pakistan - copyright piracy hub", BBC, 2005-05-03. Retrieved on 2007-02-05.
  11. "Music piracy in UK soars", BBC, 2002-12-18. Retrieved on 2007-02-05.
  12. Natali Del Conte. "Russia Agrees To US Request To Shut Down", TechCrunch, 2006-11-28. Retrieved on 2007-02-05.
  13. IPTV Guy. "Chinese Government promises to help fight online piracy", Web TV Wire. Retrieved on 2007-02-05.
  14. see Berne Convention Article 6, bis
  15. see Feist v. Rural Telephone 499 U.S. 340, 361 (1991)
  16. see Feist v. Rural Telephone 499 U.S. 340 (1991) (holding that an arrangement of telephone numbers in alphabetical order was not sufficiently original to garner copyright protection)
  17. see e.g., ProCD, Inc. v. Zeidenberg, 86 F.3d 1447 (7th Cir. 1996) (holding that a software license agreement was not preempted by copyright law and could legally restrain the purchaser of a database from copying under contract law).
  18. Feist at 346.
  19. see Baker v. Selden 101 U.S. 99 (1880)
  20. see Midway Manufacturing Co. v. Artic International, Inc. 574 F.Supp. 999, aff'd, 704 F.2d 1009 (7th Cir 1982) (holding the computer ROM of Pac Man to be a sufficient fixation even though the game changes each time played.)
  21. see Mai Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer Inc., 991 F.2d 511 (9th Cir. 1993) (program in RAM memory a fixation).
  22. see Ty, Inc. v. GMA Accessories, Inc. 132 F.3d 1167 (7th Cir. 1997).
  23. Id. 132 F.3d 1167
  24. see Feist at 361
  25. Judge Learned Hand, Peter Pan Fabrics, Inc. v. Martin Weiner Corp., 274 F.2d 487, 489 (2nd Cir. 1960).
  26. see Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp., 45 F.2d 119 (2nd Cir. 1930)
  27. see Roth Greeting Cards v. United Card Co., 429 F.2d 1106 (9th Cir. 1970).
  28. see Sid & Marty Krofft Television Productions, Inc. v. McDonald's Corp., 562 F.2d 1157 (9th Cir. 1977) (holding that a series of McDonald's commercials portraying "McDonaldland" had used as its basis the "H.R. Pufnstuf" television show. Corresponding characters to each, while displaying marked differences, taken altogether demonstrated that McDonald's had captured the total concept and feel of the show and had thus infringed).
  29. see Castle Rock Entertainment, Inc. v. Carol Publishing Group, 150 F.3d 132, 140 (2nd Cir. 1998).
  30. see Computer Associates International, Inc. v. Altai, Inc., 982 F.2d 693, (2nd Cir. 1992) (where court chose the subtraction method for two computer programs whose total concept were the same. Individual copied elements of the program were non-protectible material because they constituted a process or idea in the program, their utilitarian aspects barring copyright protection; no infringement found).
  31. see Selle v. Gibb 741 F.2d 896 (7th Cir. 1984) (court held no infringement in The Bee Gees' song, "How Deep is Your Love" despite similarity to the melody of an unreleased song from an unknown composer).
  32. see Takeall v. Pepsico, Inc., 14 F.3d 596 (4th Cir. 1993)(unpublished opinion; brief of appellee page 9) (Ventriloquist performer who coined phrase "You got the right one, uh-huh" sued PepsiCo over similar phrase in Ray Charles commercials. Performer had sent an unsolicited promotional package to Pepsi, which was not forwarded to marketing executives).
  33. Gordon v. Nextel Communications 345 F.3d 922 (6th Cir.).
  34. Newton v. Diamond 388 F.3d 1189 (9th Cir. 2004)
  35. Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films 410 F.3d 792, 802 (6th Cir. 2005)

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