Copyright is valuable to the extent it protects an author’s investment in an original work. Infringement directly injures the copyright owner by depriving the owner of the revenue that is generated by the infringer’s work and indirectly injures the owner by softening demand for his work. A copyright owner who has been injured by an infringing work may file a law suit requesting one of two types of remedies. First, the owner may ask the court to grant an injunction ordering the offending party from continuing to infringe on the copyright. Or the owner may instead choose to receive statutory damages for the infringement, which range from as little as $100 for innocent infringement to as much as $50,000 for willful infringement.
Willful infringement is also a federal criminal offense, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to a year in prison (see 17 U.S.C.A. § 506[a]). However, the law requires that the prosecution demonstrate that the infringement was willful and that it was for the purpose of “commercial advantage or private financial gain.” Mass piracy of sound or motion picture recordings without permission of the copyright owner is a separate criminal offense, punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison under the Piracy and Counterfeiting Amendments Act of 1982 (see 18 U.S.C. § 2318).