Q&A – Civil vs. Criminal Copyright Infringement Claims

Q. The Copyright Act provides for criminal and civil remedies for infringements.  What’s the difference and what does that mean to me as the copyright owner when I am infringed?

A. Crimes are considered to be offenses against society as a whole.  Civil claims result from disputes between persons or entities (such as a business). While criminal and civil cases are treated differently, the conduct that caused the actions may be the same.  Therefore, remedies for infringement may result in both civil and criminal liability for the infringer.  Specifically, 17 USC 502-506 of the Copyright Act provides several remedies for infringement, which includes injunctions (stopping the infringement), impounding the infringing copies, damages and profits to the copyright owner, and criminal prosecution.

Photographers usually make civil claims for infringement.  They can ask for an injunction, to impound and destroy the copies, and for damages and profits.  While a photographer also might file a criminal complaint, the government decides whether it will pursue criminal actions. Unfortunately, the government spends most of its time with large infringements, such as for counterfeited goods, and doesn’t pursue the blogger who posts your image without authorization. Criminal fines can include jail time for the infringer and/or fines, but the government gets the money, not you.

So the best way for you to be able to recover for infringements is to register your photos so that you are eligible to receive civil statutory damages!

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