‘Is Copyright Infringement a Felony’? Do you want to know more?

Copyright infringement has several consequences for both infringer and the creator. If you are a content creator, you should understand the importance of infringement and laws.


While  laws were established to protect the rights of creators and encourage innovation, the complexities surrounding these laws have left many wondering about the severity of potential penalties.

One question that frequently arises is whether infringement is considered a felony or not.

Let us look into the important aspects of law and how it helps creators to safeguard their work without any infringement.

We will also delve into the impact of an infringement and copyright penalties.


Is Copyright Infringement a Federal Crime?

The Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code) governs content and provides the legal framework for protecting the rights of  holders.

17 U.S.C. 506 and 18 U.S.C. 2319 both contain criminal penalties for infringement.

According to these statutes, criminal infringement occurs when someone willfully infringes on the holder’s exclusive rights for either financial gain or the reproduction or distribution of copyrighted material, which exceeds a certain threshold.

Copyright infringement also has severe consequences. They can be either severe or liberal. However, the severity of  violation will vary from one case to another.

The two  infringements are criminal and civil. However, in criminal  infringement, the violation can extend up to fines.

In case civil remedies, owners will seek legal action against the infringers.

Copyright violations are federal crimes. Nevertheless, in some cases, the  infringement will not be subjected under the federal crimes.

In a nutshell, many holders will seek the civil remedies. The civil remedies will provide them with the resolution, such as damages. They can seek them through the courts.

Further Reading: Copyright Act of 1976


How to Get a Valid Copyright?

In the United States, obtaining a valid copyright is relatively straightforward. When you create an original work that is fixed in a tangible medium of expression,  protection automatically arises.

There is no need to register the work with the Copyright Office to enjoy basic protection. However, registration provides certain benefits that can be valuable in the event of a dispute. Here are the steps to get a valid copyright, including copyright registration:

Create an original work: To be eligible for  protection, your work must be original and created independently by you. It cannot be a copy or imitation of someone else’s work.

As a content owner, you can protect any type of the work with the registration.


There are many  works that include, literary works, art, music, movies, software etc.

Fix the work in a tangible medium of expression

Your work must be fixed in a tangible form that can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

This means writing it down, recording it, or saving it on a computer.

Registration (optional, but recommended): While not required for protection, registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office provides several benefits, such as the ability to sue for  infringement, statutory damages, and attorney’s fees. To register, follow these steps:

a. Visit the U.S. Copyright Office website (www.copyright.gov) and create an account.

b. Fill out the appropriate online application form for your type of work (literary, visual arts, performing arts, etc.).

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c. Pay the required registration fee. The fee varies depending on the type of work and whether you choose online or paper registration. Online registration typically costs less and is faster.

d. Submit a digital or physical copy of your work as required by the Office. This is known as the “deposit requirement.”

Use a notice (optional)

Although not required, placing a notice on your work can be beneficial.

Here are the important details in the  notice. They are, publication year, symbol and the  holder’s name.


This notice informs others that the work is protected by registration and identifies the copyright owner.


The above steps are crucial to have a valid registration.This will also ensure that you have both moral and exclusive rights of a creator.

The exclusive rights are following: Displaying, performing, reproducing, displaying, creating derivative works etc.

While you are complaining someone for the  infringement, you should be aware of the laws.

However, a law will vary from one country to another. Hence, before going for claim, you should research the laws in your country.

Is Copyright Infringement a Felony or Misdemeanor?

In the United States,  infringement can be classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the nature and extent of the infringement.

Both criminal and civil penalties may apply to infringement cases. However, not all  infringement cases are considered criminal offenses; many are handled as civil matters.

Under 17 U.S.C. § 506 and 18 U.S.C. § 2319, criminal infringement occurs when someone willfully infringes on a holder’s exclusive rights for financial gain or reproduces or distributes a certain amount of copyrighted material within a specified period.

The classification of the offense as a felony or misdemeanor depends on the specific circumstances:

Felony

Infringement is typically considered a felony when the infringement is committed willfully and for financial gain, or when the infringing activities involve a significant amount of copyrighted material within a specific time frame.

Felony penalties can include substantial fines, imprisonment for up to several years, or both.

Misdemeanor: Felony has different criteria to meet. In a few scenarios, the violation will be labelled as misdemeanor.

Misdemeanor penalties are generally less severe than felony penalties and can include smaller fines, shorter imprisonment terms, or both.

Note: A  violation will occur in several platforms.

Hence, many violation cases will resolve with the civil remedies.

The owners will obtain both damages and remedies through the court.


Criminal charges are usually reserved for more serious cases involving willful infringement and financial gain.

Criminal Copyright Laws

Criminal laws in the United States are designed to punish and deter willful infringement, especially when it involves financial gain or large-scale reproduction and distribution of copyrighted materials.

These laws are primarily governed by two sections of the United States Code: 17 U.S.C. § 506 and 18 U.S.C. § 2319.

17 U.S.C. § 506 – Criminal offenses

This section outlines the circumstances under which copyright infringement becomes a criminal offense.

As mentioned earlier, a violation can happen on several instances. Anyways, every  infringement will violate the rights of the  holders.

One of the  infringements is willful infringement. This will happen when someone purposefully infringes your content for the revenue.

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This willful infringement will impact both holders and infringers. The infringer will lose their reputation and holders will lose their revenue.


18 U.S.C. § 2319 – Criminal infringement of a copyright

This section establishes the penalties for criminal  infringement.

The severity of the penalties depends on the nature and extent of the infringement, as well as whether it is classified as a felony or a misdemeanor.

Penalties can include fines, imprisonment, or both.

Criminal  infringement is considered a more serious offense than civil  infringement, which is typically resolved through lawsuits and monetary damages.

Criminal charges are usually reserved for cases involving willful, large-scale infringement with the intent to profit from the illegal activities.

It is important to remember that these laws apply to the United States, and other countries may have different legal frameworks and penalties for criminal infringement.

Always be aware of the  laws and regulations in the jurisdiction where you are located.

How Copyright Violation Happens?

Copyright violation, also known as infringement, occurs when someone uses, reproduces, distributes, displays, or performs a copyrighted work without the permission of the  holder.

This unauthorised use infringes on the exclusive rights granted to the owner under the law.

Here are some common ways violation can happen:

Copyright without permission

The most common violations occur when someone uses the content without any permission of the owners.

The works can be music, movies, books, software etc. If someone uses these works without any permission, it will come under the infringement.


File-sharing and online piracy

Sharing copyrighted files, such as music, movies, or software, through peer-to-peer networks, torrent websites, or other online platforms without authorisation is another frequent way  violations occur.

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Public performance or display

Performing or displaying works in public without the copyright owner’s consent, such as playing copyrighted music at an event or showing a copyrighted movie, can also be considered  infringement.

Creating derivative works

Modifying, adapting, or translating copyrighted material to create a new work without the  owner’s permission can infringe on the owner’s exclusive right to create derivative works.

Unauthorised distribution

Distributing copyrighted material without the owner’s consent, such as selling unauthorised copies of books, music, or movies, is another form of  infringement.

It is essential to understand and respect  laws to avoid infringing on the rights of  holders.

Always obtain permission from the  owner before using, reproducing, or distributing their work, or ensure that your use of the work falls under a legally recognized exception, such as fair use in the United States.

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement?

To avoid copyright infringement, it is essential to respect the rights of holders and understand the laws that govern the use of copyrighted works. Here are some tips to help you avoid copyright infringement:

Understand copyright law: Familiarise yourself with copyright law and the exclusive rights it grants to copyright holders.

Be aware that  laws may vary between countries, so make sure to research the applicable laws in your jurisdiction.

Use original content: Always create your own original content, rather than copying or imitating someone else’s work.

This ensures that you have full ownership of your work and do not inadvertently infringe on someone else’s copyright.

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Obtain permission: If you want to use someone else’s copyrighted work, always seek permission from the holder.

This may involve obtaining a license or entering into a written agreement that grants you the right to use the work in a specific manner.

Use public domain works: Works in the public domain are not protected by copyright and can be used freely without obtaining permission.

Be cautious, though, as the public domain status of a work may vary between countries.

Take advantage of fair use or other exceptions: In some cases, law allows for the limited use of copyrighted material without permission under certain circumstances, such as fair use in the United States.

Be sure to understand the criteria for these exceptions and ensure that your use falls within the legally recognised guidelines.

Give proper attribution: Even when using a work under a license or within the scope of fair use, it is essential to provide proper attribution to the original creator, as required by the terms of the license or the principles of fair use.

Monitor your use of copyrighted material: Regularly review your use of copyrighted materials to ensure that you are in compliance with  laws and any permissions or licenses you have obtained.

Educate yourself and others: Stay informed about  issues and educate your colleagues, employees, or collaborators about the importance of respecting copyright laws and avoiding infringement.

By following these guidelines and being mindful of laws, you can avoid  infringement and protect your own creative works.

Note: To learn more about how to avoid copyright infringement check out the linked article.

Frequently Asked Questions

What constitutes copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when someone uses, reproduces, distributes, displays, or performs a copyrighted work without the permission of the  holder, thereby violating the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under the law.

Is all copyright infringement a criminal offense?

No, not all copyright infringement is considered a criminal offense. Most cases of  infringement are civil matters, with  holders seeking damages and other remedies through the courts.

Criminal  infringement usually involves willful infringement for financial gain or large-scale reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material.

When is copyright infringement considered a felony?

Copyright infringement is typically considered a felony when it is committed willfully and for financial gain, or when the infringing activities involve a significant amount of copyrighted material within a specific time frame.

What sanctions are imposed for felonious violations?

Felony copyright infringement can result in substantial fines, imprisonment for up to several years, or both, depending on the nature and extent of the infringement.

Can copyright infringement be a misdemeanor?

Yes, in some cases, copyright infringement may be classified as a misdemeanor when it does not meet the criteria for a felony.

Misdemeanor penalties are generally less severe than felony penalties and can include smaller fines, shorter imprisonment terms, or both.