Copyright infringement

Last week, we published an article in which we described what Copyright is. This week, we would like to discuss Copyright infringement.

Copyright infringement is a term used to refer to the abuse of the rights an author holds over their works. For instance, the Author may have chosen to limit the reproduction of their work, the creation of derivative works, or used the Artwork for their own economic purposes.

Copyright infringement complaints are generally managed in three possible ways:

  • The Artist directly contacts the person in violation of their rights to try finding a peaceful solution;
  • The Artist expresses a "removal" request of the concerned work. Social networks, for instance, commonly have a dedicated page for this purpose;
  • Through a civil lawsuit.

In case of a particularly striking violation, it can be pursued with a penal action if - for instance - the figures involved are high, or if severe moral damage is inflicted upon the artist.

In the field of Copyright violations, the most commonly used concepts are "theft" and "piracy".

"Theft" is the most common term in this field, as the offended party is robbed of the results of their creativity. In most countries, however, the law only considers it theft when the stolen material is a physical object. Intellectual Property is an abstract concept, not a concrete object (unless we are talking about a sculpture or painting - author's note). That's why the actual term used is "Copyright Infringement", so as to avoid confusion.

"Piracy" is also a widely used term when referring to Copyright violations. It refers to unauthorised copy, distribution and sale of copyrighted material. The term is also used in the 1886 Berne Convention, specifically in Article 12, which states that pirated works (such as "bootlegs") can be confiscated in all countries where said Artwork is protected by copyright (remember when people sold illegally copied CDs in the metro stations?).

In the civil code, copyright infringement refers to any violation of the Author's rights. Article 50 of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (also known as TRIPs) states that all countries which signed the agreement must manage copyright violations through injunctions (imposing that the perpetrator satisfy the Author's demands), destruction of the material in question (or deletion of online unauthorised copies), and compensation.

In some cases, copyright infringement can even turn into a penal lawsuit. This usually happens with pirated films or music which are (illegally) downloaded for free through peer-to-peer networks. In such situations, copyright infringement can even lead to imprisonment, besides huge sanctions and compensations.


The infringement of copyright, and therefore of Intellectual Property, is a serious issue, with wide financial problems. We already said our piece about how legislation mostly looks at infringements revolving around big numbers: music, films, books and software. Industries with extremely high figures (we're talking about figures between millions and billions of dollars; listing the exact numbers would be off topic, and pointless, anyway - author's note). In most situations, legislations just plod along behind weak attempts to adjust to regulations. In other cases, such as that of peer-to-peer downloads, the regulations are stricter.

Some examples?

In the USA, illlegally downloading copyrighted material (and again, the usual suspects: music, films, software) is considered a federal offence, which means it is managed by the FBI, with sanctions starting from 50,000 dollars, and may even lead to imprisonment. In Germany, sanctions are less strict, around 5,000 € for downloading music or films through peer-to-peer networks (and this law is applied concretely). Punishment is a lot more severe for who publishes this content on the net, those who are called "pirates".

About the Author

Sebastian Zdrojewski

Sebastian Zdrojewski

Founder, (He/Him)

Worked for 25 years in the IT industry facing cyber security, privacy and data protection problems for businesses. In 2017 founds Rights Chain, a project aiming to provide resources and tools for copyright and intellectual property protection for Content Creators, Artists and Businesses.