Internet Copyright Infringement By a Non-Citizen

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 What is Copyright Infringement?

Pursuant to intellectual property laws, copyrights include legal rights that are created in the original work of an author. A copyright provides the author of a new and creative work with certain exclusive rights to their work, including the right to:

  • Publish;
  • Distribute; and
  • Use.

Copyrights prevent other individuals or entities from using an author’s originally authored work without their permission. According to federal copyright law, a copyright entitles the author to many exclusive rights.

Examples of these exclusive rights include the right to:

  • Reproduce the copyrighted work as desired;
  • Distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public for sale; and
  • Perform the copyrighted work as desired.

Examples of works that can be copyrighted include, but are not limited to:

  • Books;
  • Poems;
  • Song lyrics, musical compositions, and sound recordings;
  • Plays, motion pictures, and scripts;
  • Paintings and drawings;
  • Choreography;
  • Sculptures;
  • Software;
  • Broadcasts; and
  • Websites and online content.

Copyright infringement occurs when an individual violates a copyright owner’s exclusive rights, without the express consent of the owner or author. In addition to the previously discussed rights, the following are some examples of copyrights and common copyright infringements:

  • Infringement of the right of reproduction: Copyright owners maintain the exclusive right to reproduce their work in any fixed form. As such, when a person reproduces a work by copying it and sells it, that act is considered to be infringing an owner’s right of reproduction;
    • For example, if a party copies a painting of an original artwork and sells it, it would be considered an infringement of the right of reproduction;
  • Infringement of the right of public performance: If an individual publicly performs an original protected song without permission, the act would be considered infringing the copyright owner’s right of public performance;
  • Infringement of the right of distribution: One example of infringing on an owner’s right of distribution would include if an individual sells an unlicensed copy of another individual’s original work, such as a work of literature or art;
    • For example, an individual would not be able to copy a famous musician’s music and distribute copies of that music for their own financial gain;
  • Infringement of the right to derivative works: A copyright owner has the right to modify their original work as well as to create a new work based on their older works. When an individual or entity creates a derivative of an original work without permission, it is an infringement of the right to derivative works;
    • One of the most common examples of this issue would be creating a movie based on a book without permission from the author to do so; and
  • Infringement of the right of public display: A copyright owner has the right to publicly show their work, including publishing their work online. If an individual publishes someone else’s original work online, without the owner’s permission, it would be considered infringing a copyright owner’s right of public display;
    • For example, releasing a movie online for the general public without permission from the owner would be considered an infringement of the right of public display.

What are Some Penalties for Copyright Infringement?

If an individual or entity infringes upon the exclusive rights of a copyright owner, the holder of that copyright may sue an infringer civilly for damages that result from that infringement. Common legal penalties that are associated with copyright infringement include:

  • Compensatory damages: This is one of the most common types of remedy associated with a copyright infringement lawsuit. The infringing party will be required to pay the copyright holder the money that they gained from the use of the copyright;
  • Statutory damages: Statutory damages are established by statute, specifically, Section 504 of the Copyright Act. Statutory damages provide the owner of a copyright with the ability to recover a specified amount of damages, usually between $200.00 and $150,000.00 per work that is infringed upon;
    • Statutory damages are higher for parties that willfully violate a copyright and lesser for parties who were not aware they were violating a copyright;
  • Injunction: An injunction is the most common remedy for copyright infringement. An injunction is a court order that orders the party violating the copyright to stop their infringing acts;
  • Orders of seizure: If an infringing party possesses illegal copies of a copyrighted work, the court will often order that the illegal property be seized, or confiscated; and
  • Criminal penalties: If willful copyright infringement occurs, the infringing party may also face criminal charges as well as criminal penalties, including:
    • imprisonment for a period of up to 5 years;
    • fines of up to $250,000.00; or
    • both, per violation.

It is important to note that a copyright infringement lawsuit may include any combination of the damages listed above in addition to attorney’s fees and court costs. A lawyer who handles copyright infringement cases can determine which remedies may be appropriate depending on the circumstances of each individual case.

What is Internet Copyright Infringement by a Non-Citizen?

Putting information out on the internet may have many benefits. Unfortunately, this also comes with certain drawbacks.

One disadvantage to putting information on the Internet is having the website content copied by another website. This may be particularly problematic if the party responsible is not located in the United States.

An individual will have limited remedies if their website content is copied by a non-citizen or by a foreign corporation.

What Can I Do if My Website is Copied by a Non-Citizen?

Unfortunately, there are very few remedies which may be available if this issue arises. United States copyright laws do not extend outside of the U.S.

Because of this, a website owner will not be able to rely on United States copyright laws to protect themselves from copyright infringement in a foreign country. There are, however, a few steps an individual can take to protect their ideas if their intellectual property has been stolen by a non-citizen, including:

  • Determining if the ISP hosting site is a United States corporation;
  • Sending a cease and desist letter to the infringing party; and
  • Being prepared to initiate legal action in the country where the infringer resides.

If the ISP hosting the site is a United States corporation, then contacting that ISP with proof that copyrighted material is being hosted on a site without the owner’s permission will likely lead to the content being removed. ISPs tend to remove the copyrighted materials from their servers in order to avoid possible liability.

If the infringer can be located, it may be helpful to a cease and desist letter that states the potential for legal action with a deadline. This may cause the infringing party to remove the copyrighted materials from their website.

The infringement of copyrighted material may adversely affect an individual’s income or search engine rankings. It may be worth it to an owner to do as much as possible to stop the wrongful and infringing use of the materials.

In these cases, stopping infringement may require traveling to the country where the infringer resides as well as hiring an attorney from that country.

Do I Need a Copyright or Internet Attorney?

Copyright laws in the U.S. are complex on their own. The laws of other countries create an entirely new issue.

If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to copyright infringement in a foreign country, it may be helpful to consult an entertainment lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you regarding how to most effectively deal with the copyright infringer from a foreign country.

Your attorney can send a cease and desist letter as well as communicate with an ISP. These communications will likely be more effective if sent by a lawyer.

Your copyright lawyer can also educate you regarding your rights and advise you of the best possible options for resolving your copyright infringement issue.


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