Do you know what is “copyright”? Copyright is a type of intellectual property law that provides exclusive rights to creators over their original work.

Established in many jurisdictions worldwide, protection typically applies to a variety of works, such as books, music, movies, photographs, software, and architectural designs.

The primary purpose of copyright is to encourage and reward creative expression, fostering a rich cultural landscape.

However, copyright law isn’t indefinite. After a set period, which varies by country and type of work, copyright expires, and the work enters the public domain, where it can be freely used and built upon by others.

Importantly,  infringement – the unauthorised use of copyrighted material – can lead to significant legal consequences.

In today’s digital age, understanding the principles of copyright is crucial, as it plays an essential role in how we create, share, and use content.

Copyright Infringement Definition

Copyright infringement is the unauthorised use, reproduction, distribution, or adaptation of copyrighted works in a manner that violates the exclusive rights granted to the  holder.

These rights typically include the ability to reproduce the work, distribute copies of the work, perform the work publicly, display the work publicly, and create derivative works based on the original.

Infringement can occur in various ways, such as unauthorised sharing of music or movies, plagiarism in literature, unauthorised replication of software or video games, or the use of images or photographs without permission.

Legal penalties for  infringement can be severe, potentially including substantial fines and, in some cases, imprisonment.

These penalties are intended to deter infringement and ensure that creators are rewarded for their work.

However, it’s important to note that not all unauthorised use of copyrighted material is considered infringement.

IP Infringement

Intellectual Property (IP) Infringement refers to the unauthorised or unlawful use of intellectual property rights.

Intellectual property includes patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, and industrial design rights.

Each type represents a different aspect of a product, service, or idea, and infringement upon these rights takes different forms:

  1. Patent Infringement: This occurs when a third party makes, uses, sells, or offers to sell a patented invention without the patent owner’s permission. The specifics of what constitutes infringement may depend on the details of the patent claim.
  2. Trademark Infringement: This is the unauthorised use of a trademark or service mark on or in connection with goods and/or services in a manner that is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake about the source of the goods and/or services.
  3. Copyright Infringement: As discussed previously, this involves the unauthorised use of works protected by  law in a way that violates one of the owner’s exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce or perform the copyrighted work, or to make derivative works.
  4. Trade Secret Infringement: This is the unauthorised use of business information that is confidential and proprietary, providing a competitive edge to the business. It typically involves industrial or commercial secrets.
  5. Design Right Infringement: This refers to the unauthorised copying or use of a design (for example, a product’s shape, configuration, or decoration) that has been registered or unregistered, depending on the laws of the country.

Intellectual Property Infringement Consequences

The consequences of intellectual property (IP) infringement can be significant, spanning across civil, criminal, and potentially, reputational damages.

The specific consequences often depend on the type of IP that has been infringed (copyright, patent, trademark, or trade secret), the extent of the infringement, and the jurisdiction.

Below are some general potential consequences:

Civil Penalties: The most common consequence of IP infringement is civil litigation. The IP rights holder may sue the infringer for damages.

This could lead to the payment of substantial fines, which might be determined by the actual damages suffered by the IP owner, the profits made by the infringer from the infringement, or statutory damages, which is a fixed sum per instance of infringement set by law.

Injunctions: Courts may issue an order, known as an injunction, to stop the infringing activity.

This could require the infringer to stop production, sales, and distribution of the infringing product or service.

Seizure and Destruction of Infringing Goods

In some cases, infringing goods may be seized and destroyed. This is often the case with counterfeit goods infringing on a trademark.

Criminal Penalties: While less common, certain egregious types of IP infringement can lead to criminal charges.

This could result in imprisonment in addition to fines.

Reputational Damage: Businesses or individuals who are found to have infringed on someone else’s IP can suffer serious reputational harm.

This could result in a loss of customer trust and business opportunities, which can sometimes be more devastating than the financial penalties.

Costs of Legal Defence: Even if the alleged infringer ultimately prevails in court, they may still have to bear substantial legal costs for their defense.

What Constitutes Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement occurs when someone uses a work that is protected by laws without the copyright owner’s permission in a way that violates one of the owner’s exclusive rights.

These exclusive rights generally include:

The right to reproduce or copy the work

If someone makes copies of a copyrighted work without permission, that can be copyright infringement.

This also applies to digital copies, such as uploading a book to the internet or downloading music from an unauthorised source.

The right to create derivative works

This involves modifying the original work or using it to create something new.

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For example, creating a film based on a copyrighted book or translating a book into another language without the owner’s consent would likely constitute infringement.

The right to distribute copies of the work

Selling, leasing, lending, or otherwise distributing copies of a work without the owner’s permission is a form of infringement.

The right to publicly perform or display the work

This includes things like playing a copyrighted song in a public setting or displaying a copyrighted image on a public website without the owner’s permission.

It’s essential to note that not all uses of copyrighted material are considered infringements.

Exceptions in the Copyright Violation

Fair Use is a critical concept in U.S. law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders.

It is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances.

The doctrine of Fair Use can be applied under specific conditions and for specific purposes. These include criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

It’s important to note that these are just examples – other types of use can also qualify as fair use.

In determining whether a use of copyrighted material constitutes fair use, courts typically consider four factors:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work, with more leeway given to the use of factual works than creative works.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.

Each fair use case is unique and dependent on its specific facts.

No one factor alone determines the outcome, and not all factors must weigh in favor of fair use for a particular use to be permissible.

A finding of fair use often depends on a holistic evaluation of all these factors in relation to the specific case.

Fair Use acts as a balance to the exclusive rights of  holders, ensuring that these rights do not overly stifle creativity, progress, and the free exchange of ideas.

Copyright Abuse Example

Copyright abuse can take on various forms, but one common example involves the misuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices.

The DMCA is a U.S. law that includes a mechanism for owners to demand removal of online material that they believe infringes their copyright.

This is done through what’s called a DMCA takedown notice, which is sent to the service provider hosting the allegedly infringing content.

Here’s an example of how this can lead to abuse:

Suppose a video blogger, or vlogger, posts a review of a movie on their YouTube channel.

In the review, they include short clips from the movie to illustrate their points – a practice that likely falls under fair use, a doctrine inlaw that allows limited use of copyrighted material for purposes like criticism and commentary.

However, the movie studio disagrees and sends a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube, asserting that the vlogger’s use of clips from the movie constitutes  infringement.

In response to the notice, YouTube takes down the vlogger’s video, even though the use of the clips likely qualifies as fair use.

In this case, the movie studio has arguably abused law by using a DMCA takedown notice to stifle criticism and commentary, rather than to address legitimate instances of  infringement.

This misuse of copyright can have a chilling effect on free speech and creative expression.

Please note, while the DMCA is a U.S. law, similar principles apply in many other jurisdictions, and misuse of takedown notices is a global issue.

If you ever find yourself on the receiving end of a takedown notice and believe your use of copyrighted material falls under fair use, it may be beneficial to consult with a legal professional.

What are Some Copyright Violations in Social Media

With the rise of social media platforms, sharing and disseminating content has become easier than ever.

While this has greatly enhanced global communication and expression, it has also led to an increase in violations.

Here are some common types of  violations that occur on social media:

  1. Sharing copyrighted photos, videos, and music: Uploading and sharing copyrighted material without permission or a suitable license is one of the most common  violations on social media. 
  2. Unattributed Quotes or Text: Posting substantial excerpts from copyrighted books, articles, or other written works without permission or without proper attribution can also constitute  infringement. 
  3. Creating Derivative Works: This refers to modifying copyrighted work to create something new. For example, using a copyrighted photograph as the basis for a digital artwork or meme without the holder’s permission may infringe on the holder’s exclusive right to create derivative works.
  4. Livestreaming copyrighted events or content: This can include livestreaming concerts, sporting events, movies, or TV shows without permission from the  holder.
  5. Reposting Content: Even if a piece of content is freely available on the internet, reposting it on social media without the permission of the owner can still infringe copyright, unless an exception like fair use applies.

Remember, law varies by jurisdiction, and different countries may have different rules and exceptions.

If you’re unsure about whether sharing a certain piece of content is a  violation, it’s often a good idea to consult with a legal professional.

In many cases, it’s also a good idea to ask for permission from the copyright owner before sharing their content.

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 Causes of Copyright Infringement on Social Platforms

  1. Lack of Awareness: Many users lack a proper understanding of  laws and might not realise that they are infringing upon someone’s copyright by posting certain content.
  2. The idea that everything online is free for the taking is a misconception that often leads to unintentional infringement.
  3. Ease of Sharing: The design of social media platforms facilitates easy sharing of content.
  4. A simple click can repost or share copyrighted images, music, or text, sometimes leading users to inadvertently infringe laws.
  5. Anonymity: The perceived anonymity on the internet can cause people to infringe copyright, thinking they won’t be held accountable.
  6. However, this anonymity is often a false perception as legal action can and does occur.
  7. Commercial Gain: In some cases, infringement is done deliberately for commercial gain.
  8. This includes using copyrighted material to attract followers or likes, which can potentially be monetized.
  9. Lack of Enforcement: While social media platforms have mechanisms to report  infringement, the sheer volume of content makes it challenging to enforce laws effectively.
  10. Consequently, some users may take the chance of posting copyrighted material, banking on the possibility that their infringement might go unnoticed.
  11. Misunderstanding of ‘Fair Use’: The doctrine of fair use allows the use of copyrighted material under certain conditions, but its application can be complex and is often misunderstood.
  12. This can result in people mistakenly believing their use of copyrighted material is fair use when it may not be.
  13. Global Accessibility: Different countries have different  laws, and what might be legal in one country could be illegal in another.
  14. Given the global reach of social media, this can lead to inadvertent  infringement.

Is Copyright Infringement a Theft?

While  infringement is often colloquially referred to as “theft,” legally and conceptually, it is distinct from traditional notions of theft.

In the context of law, theft typically refers to the taking of someone’s property with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of its possession.

When a theft occurs, the original owner no longer has the item that was stolen.

However,  infringement doesn’t involve taking something away in the same sense.

If someone infringes a copyright, the  owner still retains the original work and their rights to it.

Instead, what the infringer is “taking” is the exclusive rights granted to the  holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, or display the work.

In this sense, copyright infringement is more about violating the owner’s exclusive rights rather than taking away their property.

It’s also important to note that intent and knowledge, factors often considered in theft, are not always relevant in copyright infringement cases.

You can infringe on someone’s copyright unknowingly or unintentionally, but ignorance of the law is typically not a valid defense.

That said, copyright infringement is still illegal and can result in substantial civil penalties, and in some cases, criminal penalties.

So while it may not be “theft” in the traditional sense, it is still a serious violation of law that can have significant consequences.

4 Types of Copyright Infringement

Direct Infringement

This is the most straightforward form of copyright infringement, which occurs when someone reproduces, distributes, performs, publicly displays, or makes a derivative work from a copyrighted work without the copyright owner’s permission.

Examples include copying and sharing an eBook online or playing a copyrighted song during a public event without obtaining the necessary licenses.

Contributory Infringement

This occurs when a person or entity knowingly contributes to another’s direct infringement or induces that infringement.

For instance, a person who knowingly provides the means for others to infringe – such as creating and maintaining a website designed to share copyrighted music files – may be liable for contributory infringement.

Vicarious Infringement

This form of infringement occurs when a person or entity has the power to stop or limit the infringing activity but does not do so, and also receives a direct financial benefit from the infringement.

A common example might be a flea market operator who allows vendors to sell pirated DVDs and profits from the vendors’ booth rental fees.

Indirect (or Secondary) Infringement

This involves benefiting from an infringement while having knowledge of it but not directly participating in the infringing activity.

An example could be an internet service provider that hosts websites containing pirated material and charges users for access to it, while knowing that the hosted sites contain infringing content.

Most Common Form of Copyright Infringement

The most common form of copyright infringement, particularly in the digital age, is the unauthorized reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material. This often takes the form of file sharing or digital piracy.

File sharing

This usually involves sharing copyrighted music, movies, books, or software over the internet without the permission of the copyright owner.

With the advent of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks, unauthorised file sharing has become widespread.

Digital piracy

This is a broader term that can include unauthorised file sharing.

But it can also refer to other forms of digital copyright infringement, such as selling unauthorised copies of software, music, movies, or video games online.

In addition, uploading copyrighted material onto social media platforms, or using copyrighted music, images, or videos in content created for these platforms, is also a very common form of copyright infringement.

These activities often infringe on the copyright owner’s exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, or display their work, and can lead to legal consequences.

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It’s important to note that copyright laws vary by country, and different countries may have different rules and exceptions.

Therefore, what constitutes copyright infringement in one country might not be considered infringement in another.

Nonetheless, unauthorised reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material is generally prohibited under most copyright laws.

What Does Copyright Symbol Signify?

The copyright symbol, denoted as ©, is a widely recognised symbol that represents copyright protection.

It’s usually accompanied by the name of the copyright owner and the year of first publication. Together, this forms a copyright notice, for example: © 2023 OpenAI.

The presence of the copyright symbol serves several purposes:

  1. It indicates that a work is protected by copyright. This serves as a warning to potential infringers that the work is legally protected.
  2. It identifies the copyright owner. This is useful for anyone who wishes to use the work and needs to seek permission from the copyright owner.
  3. It shows the year of first publication, which can be important in determining the duration of copyright protection.

Copyright Terms in India

In India, copyright law is governed by the Indian Copyright Act, 1957. The terms of copyright protection in India vary depending on the type of work:

  1. Literary, Dramatic, Musical and Artistic works: The duration of copyright protection for these types of works is the lifetime of the author, plus 60 years. 
  2. Anonymous and Pseudonymous works: If the author of the work is unknown or has published the work under a pseudonym, copyright protection lasts for 60 years from the end of the year in which the work was first published.
  3. Cinematograph Films and Sound Recordings: These types of works are protected for a period of 60 years. The term begins from the end of the year in which the work was first published.
  4. Photographs: Like cinematograph films and sound recordings, photographs are also protected for 60 years from the end of the year in which the photograph was first published.
  5. Broadcast Reproduction Rights: The broadcast reproduction right subsists until 25 years from the beginning of the calendar year next following the year in which the broadcast is made.
  6. Performers’ Rights: The performers’ rights shall subsist until 50 years from the beginning of the calendar year next following the year in which the performance is made.
  7. Posthumous Works: If the work is published posthumously, copyright protection lasts for 60 years from the end of the year in which the work is first published.


In conclusion, copyright is a vital component of intellectual property law, serving as an essential tool to protect the rights of creators and their creative expressions.

It grants exclusive rights to the creators over their original works, covering a wide range of domains, including literary, artistic, musical, and dramatic works, among others.

With the dawn of the digital age, understanding copyright has become even more critical as it directly impacts our daily interactions, from sharing a post on social media to streaming music online.

While copyright infringement is a growing concern due to the ease of content duplication and distribution, mechanisms such as Fair Use provide some flexibility, balancing the interests of the public and creators.

Despite geographical differences in copyright laws and terms, global agreements like the Berne Convention aim to establish a somewhat universal standard for copyright protection.

However, complexities often arise, making it important for individuals and organisations to understand their respective national laws and the principles of international copyright law.

It’s also noteworthy that while copyright is automatic upon creation of a work, displaying the copyright symbol serves as a reminder of these rights and can be beneficial in various contexts.

In a world that increasingly values creativity and innovation, copyright remains an indispensable element in fostering originality, safeguarding creators’ rights, and promoting the progress of arts and sciences.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is copyright?

Copyright is a legal right that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution.

It covers various forms of creative expression, such as literary works, music, films, paintings, photographs, and software.

How is copyright different from trademarks and patents?

While all three are forms of intellectual property protection, they protect different types of assets. Copyright is geared towards creative and artistic works.

Trademarks protect brands and identifiers like names, logos, and slogans. Patents protect inventions and innovative processes.

How long does copyright last?

The duration of copyright protection varies by jurisdiction and type of work, but generally, it lasts for the lifetime of the author plus an additional 50 to 70 years.

For example, in the U.S. and India, copyright protection typically lasts for the life of the author plus 70 and 60 years, respectively.

Do I have to register my work to have it copyrighted?

No, copyright is automatic upon creation of an original work fixed in a tangible medium of expression.

Registration is not required for copyright protection, although in some countries like the U.S., registration provides additional benefits, such as the ability to sue for copyright infringement.