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How is copyright infringement prosecuted and punished?

Ignorance of the law cannot be used as an excuse by a Milwaukee defendant. In truth, it is largely impossible for anyone, even legal professionals, to know and understand every law. If you want to pick an especially difficult area to tackle, try sorting out the nuances of intellectual property laws.

Take copyright infringement. It's possible a lot of Wisconsin residents have committed the white collar crime while using the Internet. Of course, some computer file sharers are well aware they are breaking copyright laws; more likely they're in the dark on what might happen to them if they're caught for these purposeful behaviors.

A copyright awards an author exclusive ownership and control over a certain original work for a set time. For instance, someone with a copyright on a motion picture has distribution and public display and performance rights, along with the right to make copies or derivatives - new works based heavily on elements of the older work. For derivative works, think "Toy Story" and the multiple incarnations of "The Fast and the Furious."

A person infringes on a copyright by failing to get the empowered author's permission to use a copyrighted work, or in some cases, part of a work. Certain works are copyrighted the moment they are "fixed in a tangible medium," with or without a copyright registration.

Copyrighted materials include books, music, movies and a host of other works. Some things may not be copyrighted like names, facts, ideas and works in the public domain. Be aware some works not copyright protected are shielded by other intellectual property laws.

A criminal defense attorney can work toward minimizing charges and harsh penalties, like a maximum fine of $250,000 per offense plus a five-year prison term for willful copyright violations. You could also be liable for damages in a separate civil action, whether copyright infringement is willful or accidental.

Source: Kent State University, "Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws," accessed June 05, 2015

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