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Legal implications of copyright infringement

Copyright infringement can be defined in numerous ways, some of which include piracy, theft and freebooting.

Legally, the term is used when an individual uses any works protected by copyright law, without permission, which then leads to the infringement of any exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder.

The rights granted to the copyright holder include the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform any of the protected work. In some cases, copyright can be infringed when someone recreates any form of content and creates a derivative work associated with it.

While some content creators such as bloggers are able to implement an online plagiarism checker to ensure that their content is completely unique, many do not comply with this and are often duplicating content across the web, which leads to further saturation.

With the advancements in technology and the growth in the use of the internet, copyright infringement laws are beginning to expand in order to recognise indirect infringers and distributors, which are unknowingly facilitating and encouraging the act, so let’s take a look at the legal implications of copyright infringement.

How long does copyright last?

There have been a number of changes relating to the length of time copyright of a singular piece of work is able to remain for. Mostly, this is dependent on each individual country around the world.

In the US for example, copyright was originally 14 years, and allowed a single renewal allowance of an additional 14 years. Now however, copyright will last for as long as the author lives and an additional 70 years on top of this. However, if the original work was created under corporate authorship, then copyright term may last for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication (whichever is sooner).

Existing laws

The majority of countries around the globe often believe that the enforcement of copyright should be the responsibility of the copyright holder. However, in some countries, there are also various jurisdictions which can allow criminal penalties, dependent on the severity of the copyright infringement.

Copyright infringement in the US generally sees lawsuits being disputed in civil court, and there have been a number of cases that have seen companies sue providers of services and piracy software which allows and encourages unauthorised copying.

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An example of this is MGM v. Grokster 2005, where the motion-picture corporation attempted to sue Grokster for their role in copyright infringement. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of MGM due to the company openly marketing themselves as a platform on which individuals can obtain copyrighted films.

Article 50 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights

Shortened to TRIPs, this agreement requires that countries allow courts to help with any form of copyright infringement by implementing injunctions. In some cases, dependent on the severity of the copyright, TRIPs can also help to destroy products and in some cases award damages.

Article 61 of The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights

This article of TRIPs ensures that any countries who have signed this agreement will establish criminal procedures particularly in the case of companies who are trademark counterfeiting on a commercial scale – such as in the case of The Pirate Bay.

However, there have been previously been various loopholes in this, especially as a result of the case United States v. LaMacchia (1994) in which the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that copyrighting for non-commercial motives would not actually be prosecuted as a criminal offence – which meant that any copyright infringement which was not generating any form of profits could not be prosecuted under these legal standings.

Nevertheless, the United States No Electronic Theft Act was passed just 3 years later as a response to this. As technologies begin to improve, laws will need to improve much faster also.

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Copyright laws around the world

In some countries, copyright law actually permits the downloading of any form of copyright protected content as long as it is being downloaded for personal use only, and not used commercially. Countries such as Canada, The Netherlands and a number of EU member states all permit this. This is included as part of the personal copying exemption in the EU Copyright Directive 2001.

However, this only applies to downloading and it remains illegal in most countries to upload and distribute copyright files to a P2P network or most other forms of distribution. There are also some online intermediary liability considerations which many countries take into account, as many court cases will also focus on how liable the Internet Service Providers are in hosting copyrighted content.

Solving Copyright disputes

There are a number of different ways in which individuals can solve a copyright dispute. These include a notice and take down process, direct negotiation with the individual who is infringing the rights of the copyright holder and, in more serious cases, litigation at civil court.

There have even been some instances, particularly for large-scale commercial infringement cases, which have been prosecuted through the criminal justice system.

Economic impact of Copyright infringement

While many P2P platforms and individuals agree with copyright to some degree, such as for the distribution of films and music, there are a number of corporations who can be drastically impacted by copyright infringement.

For example, Motion Picture Association of America reported in 2008 that they lost approximately $6.1 billion as a result of piracy. According to the Guardian in May 2014, the Hollywood movie industry loses approximately US$20.5 billion annually.

The growth in technology is likely to lead to much stricter copyright laws, and as corporations and ISPs are beginning to be targeted within these laws, accessing copyrighted materials is likely to be made more difficult.

There are no circumstances under which materials should copied and shared for profit or for personal use and with the economic impact that infringing copyright can have, it’s likely that we will see numerous high profile civil and criminal court cases in the near future.