Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement (at times referred to as piracy) is the use of works protected by copyright law without permission for a usage where such permission is required, thereby infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works. The copyright holder is typically the work’s creator, or a publisher or other business to whom copyright has been assigned. Copyright holders routinely invoke legal and technological measures to prevent and penalize copyright infringement.

Copyright infringement disputes are usually resolved through direct negotiation, a notice and take down process, or litigation in civil court. Egregious or large-scale commercial infringement, especially when it involves counterfeiting, is sometimes prosecuted via the criminal justice system. Shifting public expectations, advances in digital technology and the increasing reach of the Internet have led to such widespread, anonymous infringement that copyright-dependent industries now focus less on pursuing individuals who seek and share copyright-protected content online, and more on expanding copyright law to recognize and penalize, as indirect infringers, the service providers and software distributors who are said to facilitate and encourage individual acts of infringement by others.

Estimates of the actual economic impact of copyright infringement vary widely and depend on other factors. Nevertheless, copyright holders, industry representatives, and legislators have long characterized copyright infringement as piracy or theft – language which some U.S. courts now regard as pejorative or otherwise contentious.

The terms piracy and theft are often associated with copyright infringement. The original meaning of piracy is “robbery or illegal violence at sea”, but the term has been in use for centuries as a synonym for acts of copyright infringement. Theft, meanwhile, emphasizes the potential commercial harm of infringement to copyright holders. However, copyright is a type of intellectual property, an area of law distinct from that which covers robbery or theft, offenses related only to tangible property. Not all copyright infringement results in commercial loss, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that infringement does not easily equate with theft.

This was taken further in the case MPAA v. Hotfile, where Judge Kathleen M. Williams granted a motion to deny the MPAA the usage of words whose appearance was primarily “pejorative”. This list included the word “piracy”, the use of which, the motion by the defense stated, serves no court purpose but to misguide and inflame the jury.

Copyright Infringement Issues

Copyright infringement issues have varied over the years, but with rapid advances in technology, the Copyright Office has faced a growing number of issues in an effort to keep pace with innovation.

Technology

Modern technology makes it relatively easy to copy a product or information, and some companies derive a substantial part of their revenue from replicating what other companies have created. In response, the Copyright Office established the Copyright Modernization Office in 2018. The division is responsible for coordinating IT (internet technology) modernization projects with the goal of modernizing the Copyright Office as well as the Library of Congress.

International Issues

Copyright infringement and the resulting laws surrounding protection can vary from country to country, with different options for recourse and different amounts of protection. In an international setting, it can be difficult to prove copyright ownership, and domestic courts may see enforcement of copyright claims from international companies as a threat to national productivity. Some international organizations, such as the European Union, attempt to keep the regulations and enforcement guidelines of its member countries as harmonized as possible.

Photography and Visual Assets

With the advances in digital imagery, it’s become easier than ever to copy an image. Over the past few years, the Copyright Office has been made aware of various copyright issues from photographers, illustrators, and graphic artists.

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