The US Department of Justice is very concerned about video piracy and other intellectual property cybercrimes. There are two basic types of video piracy: acquiring an illegal copy of a film, and distributing the illegal copy.
Last year, the Justice Department began "Operation Fastlink," a major, 18-month initiative to combat online piracy worldwide. Two months ago, it obtained its 60th conviction. Since its inception, it has executed 120 search warrants in 12 countries targeting those involved in illegal reproduction and distribution of movies, games, business software and music.
Several statutes may be used to charge a video pirate. Felony Criminal infringement of a copyright. and conspiracy to do so, carry a maximum penalty of either 3 or 5 years and hefty fines. Related crimes carry equal or greater penalties.
A few months ago in CA, 3 men were charged with distributing pirated copies of Hollywood movies such as ¿Slumdog Millionaire¿ and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," violationing federal copyright law. Another was charged with uploading a copyrighted work for sale. What did they do? They uploaded copies of the movie to an internet site for distribution. The charge of uploading a copyrighted work carries a maximum penalty of 3 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or gross loss made from the offense, whichever is more.
In another case, a man was charged with criminal copyright infringement and making false statements to the FBI having allegedly posted a pre-release, ¿screener¿ copy of a new film. The maximum penalty for his charges is 6 years.
Criminal Copyright Infringement can be either a felony or misdemeanor. Depending on the severity of your crime, the penalty is either a 3 or 5 year maximum sentence and hefty fines for a first offense. Second offenses carry increased penalties.
For the misdemeanor crime of copy infringemenet, the Government must prove you engaged in the activity for commercial advantage or private financial gain or, that you reproduced or distributed one or more copyrighted works with a total retail value more than $1,000, within a 180-day period.
Other laws can be used to charge you depending on the circumstances. The Government and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) takes video piracy very seriously. The MPAA has an Internet piracy task force that works closely with law enforcement agencies throughout the world to find and catch video pirates.
To stop illegal copying of movies in theaters, the MPAA occasionally helps airport style security locate concealed video cameras. They may use theater personnel with night vision goggles to detect video cameras during a movie showing. In addition, they employ Ranger, a sophisticated search engine, to track illegal movies on the Internet. When they find a pirated film, they send ¿Cease and desist¿ letters to the website in violation.
Among the defenses to the criminal charges are:
- First sale: The first purchaser and any subsequent purchaser of a specific copy of a copyrighted work may sell, display (privately), or dispose of their copy, but may not reproduce and distribute additional copies made from that work.
- Fair use: Allows use of a work for to be used for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.
- Archival Owner of a copy of a computer program may copy the program as necessary to use the program or do machine maintenance or repair, and as an archival backup, subject to certain limitations.
States may have their own video piracy crime laws. If you think you're at risk, contact an attorney experienced in intellectual property law and criminal defense for a consultation. You'll get advice tailored to your specific situation.