What Is Copyright Infringement?

What Is Copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement is the unauthorized use of works under copyright, infringing the copyright holder’s “exclusive rights”, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the copyrighted work, spread the information contained within copyrighted works, or to make derivative works. It often refers to copying “intellectual property” without written permission from the copyright holder, which is typically a publisher or other business representing or assigned by the work’s creator.

Colloquial terminology

Copyright infringement is often associated with the terms piracy and theft. Although piracy literally means brazen high-seas robbery and kidnapping, it has a long history of use as a synonym for acts which were later codified as types of copyright infringement. Theft is more strongly hyperbolic, emphasizing the potential commercial harm of infringement to copyright holders; however, not all copyright infringement results in commercial loss, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that infringement does not easily equate with theft.

“Piracy”

The practice of labelling the infringement of exclusive rights in creative works as “piracy” predates statutory copyright law. Prior to the Statute of Anne in 1709, the Stationers’ Company of London in 1557 received a Royal Charter giving the company a monopoly on publication and tasking it with enforcing the charter. Those who violated the charter were labelled pirates as early as 1603. The term “piracy” has been used to refer to the unauthorized copying, distribution and selling of works in copyright. Article 12 of the 1886 Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works uses the term “piracy” in relation to copyright infringement, stating “Pirated works may be seized on importation into those countries of the Union where the original work enjoys legal protection.” Article 61 of the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) requires criminal procedures and penalties in cases of “willful trademark counterfeiting or copyright piracy on a commercial scale.” Piracy traditionally refers to acts of copyright infringement intentionally committed for financial gain, though more recently, copyright holders have described online copyright infringement, particularly in relation to peer-to-peer file sharing networks, as “piracy.”

“Theft”

An unskippable anti-piracy film included on some movie DVDs. The video equates copyright infringement with theft.

Copyright holders frequently refer to copyright infringement as theft. In copyright law, infringement does not refer to theft of physical objects that take away the owner’s possession, but an instance where a person exercises one of the exclusive rights of the copyright holder without authorization. Courts have distinguished between copyright infringement and theft holding, for instance, in the United States Supreme Court case Dowling v. United States (1985), that bootleg phonorecords did not constitute stolen property and that “interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud. The Copyright Act even employs a separate term of art to define one who misappropriates a copyright: ‘[…] an infringer of the copyright.'” The court said that in the case of copyright infringement, the province guaranteed to the copyright holder by copyright law—certain exclusive rights—is invaded, but no control, physical or otherwise, is taken over the copyright, nor is the copyright holder wholly deprived of using the copyrighted work or exercising the exclusive rights held.

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