The First Amendment states that the federal government, and state governments through the 14th Amendment, may not pass legislation which interferes with citizen's freedom of press, religion, speech, and the right to assemble. However, private companies and organizations, acting in their own capacity, may restrict this right. Server operators, which act as the private regulators of internet material, may include in their terms of service agreement restrictions which act to limit First Amendment Rights in order to protect the integrity of their systems.
Are Pirated Software and Other Forms of Copyright Infringement Protected by the First Amendment?
In general, the First Amendment has not been accepted as a defense to copyright infringement. However, copyright restrictions are not seen as a limit on speech by the courts, but rather as an important instrument to promote free speech by offering protection to people for the expression of their ideas and thoughts. Therefore, the unlawful reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material is not protected by the First Amendment and is prosecutable under Federal law as copyright infringement.
Does a Person Need to Know they Are Committing Copyright Infringement?
A copyright infringement is typically considered a strict liability offense and does not require the offender to be aware that their actions are against the law. The absence of knowledge or intent is not a recognized defense in most copyright infringement cases. However, contributory copyright infringement does often require that the offender knew, or should have known, that they were inducing, causing or materially contributing to the commission of a direct infringement.
Should I Contact an Intellectual Property Attorney about My Involvement in Copyright Infringement?
If you have been accused of copyright infringement and are facing legal action, the advice of an intellectual property attorney specializing in copyright infringement would be helpful in determining your best defense and course of action. Because of the complicated nature of the law in this area, the aid of a good attorney can be extremely beneficial.