Breaking copyright laws, or copyright infringement, can result in a number of different potential consequences. The penalties for copyright infringement depend on various factors, such as the type of material the individual is infringing upon and the manner in which the material is used. Most times the process will begin with the infringing party receiving a stop and desist letter from an attorney on behalf of the aggrieved party.

Copyright laws protect the right of the creator of an original work to use, copy or otherwise control their work. The framers of the U.S. Constitution were proponents of protection of intellectual property and encouraged Congress to create laws that would induce people to create original works by giving them the right to control them for a period of time.

The length of time a work is protected under the copyright laws depends upon when it was created. Works created after January 1, 1978 are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. If the work is published anonymously, it is protected for the shorter of 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation.  The copyright protection given to works created prior to January 1, 1978 is computed under a complex set of rules created by the Copyright Act of 1976.

Penalties for Violating Copyright Laws

A person who breaks the copyright laws might be liable for civil penalties payable to the holder of the copyright. The penalties may include the payment of actual damages and profits to the copyright holder, attorney's fees and court expenses, and up to $30,000 in statutory damages for each work. Criminal penalties include imprisonment for up to five years and fines up to $250,000. Judges may also order the seizure of works that infringe on a copyright.