It’s often too easy to underestimate how far the law can reach. This is especially true in the internet age. With so much information out there, it can be difficult to understand how copyright infringement works.

There are many rules about almost every little thing you can legally shake a stick at. One of the more noteworthy sides of the law that routinely manages to have its fair share of fear and publicity would have to be copyright infringement.

But exactly what is copyright infringement? You’ve heard of it too many times to recount, and you have a broad idea of what it entails. But are you really in the green when it comes to knowing what copyright infringement is?

Copyright infringement has become a major issue impacting creative professionals and organizations in the digital age. The internet provides unlimited possibilities for sharing information and enables mass copyright violations through the unauthorized distribution of protected works.

Determining what constitutes infringement versus fair use or public domain can be complex for content creators and website operators. However, avoiding inadvertent copyright infringement is important to limit legal liability and reputation damage. This guide will explain what defines copyright infringement, provide statistics on its prevalence online, outline penalties for violations, and offer tips to steer clear of infringing activity.

What is copyright infringement featured

Individuals and businesses can feel confident that their content strategies adhere to intellectual property laws by learning to handle copyrighted materials properly.

Copyright infringement occurs when someone uses or distributes copyright-protected content without permission from the creator. This can include copying written content, images, music, video, software code, and other creative works.

Examples of infringing content include:

  • Reposting an article, blog post, or news story without authorization
  • Using a copyrighted image on a website without paying for the license
  • Sharing copyrighted music files like MP3s without the artist’s consent
  • Distributing pirated movies or TV shows online
  • Performing a copyrighted play or song publicly without obtaining rights
  • Selling merchandise with copyrighted logos, characters, or brand names without authorization

Statistics on Prevalence:

  • Music piracy causes $12.5 billion in economic losses annually (RIAA 2021)
  • 39% of software installed on personal computers is unlicensed (BSA Global Software Survey 2018)
  • 20% of internet traffic involves infringing distribution of copyrighted content (Sandvine 2022 NetFlow report)

Avoiding Infringement:

  • Always credit and link back to any third-party content used
  • Only use images and resources that are free for commercial use
  • Obtain licenses for any copyrighted materials used in content
  • Take down content immediately if rights holders contact you about infringement
  • Implement DMCA takedown policies as an online content platform

Let’s assume you don’t. Instead, it will put you on an educational journey through the wondrous world of copyright law.

Copyright infringement stats
Google faces over 2 million copyright infringement claims every week. Image credit: Statista

Let’s start with the basics. Though it’s easy just to plop down a simple definition and be done with it, we will take things apart just a little.

Many terms get thrown around when it comes to matters of the law, especially copyright law. So we will do our best to leave no stone of legal age unturned.

It makes more sense to define what a copyright is before thinking about copyright infringement. A copyright is a measure the law uses to protect the owners of a piece of intellectual property.

Intellectual property is anything your mind comes up with. Stuff like art in any form, creations of any nature, and any ideas you want to bring to the world, like stories, music or inventions.

For a long but ultimately limited period, you get the exclusive privilege to make as many copies, editions and/or iterations of your creations for whatever purpose you see fit, usually for publication or sale.

Sounds pretty fair so far, right?

You also get full control over the reproduction of your intellectual property and the (very appealing) right to receive monetary gain for this reproduction. That doesn’t mean it has to be you and only you forever, though.

An originator of any work can grant or sell the rights they possess to other individuals or entities. You can share it with publishers, recording companies or any other intermediary you think will be of benefit.

So, what is copyright infringement? We can think of it as any violation or transgression of these rights and regulations.

Copyrights, Patents and Trademarks: What is the Difference?

The law tends to get a little confusing when it comes to copyright.

It’s no wonder that many people seem to not know the difference between copyrights, patents and trademarks.

Copyright Infringement- Copyright, patent, trademark inforgraphic
There are several key differences between copyrights, patents and trademarks. Image credit: CareerCapitalist.

These are often used interchangeably, but this is a mistake.

Moving forward, though, we can safely say we’ve established what copyright is: an instrument of the law that protects original intellectual properties of varying nature.

This can be anything from commercial jingles to software, from illegal reproduction to profit.

Typically, an individual’s copyright protection on original works lasts for their entire lifetime, regardless of how long that may be, in addition to another 70 years after the unfortunate death of its holder.

Should the work originate from an anonymous or pseudonymous source, copyright protection lasts about 95 years from its publication or 120 years from its creation date. Whichever one happens to come first.

Copyright, in essence, effectively protects several types of work.

However, copyright is not a one-size-fits-all measure; to fully understand copyright infringement, we’d have to consider the different types involved in any individual work.

Take a film, for example; the actual footage may be protected by its copyright form separate from the score, capture method and any relevant scripts or text. Each one may have its form of copyright as well; even the techniques used to make any of it come to life can have a separate and distinct copyright.

What is a Patent?

On the other hand, patents are slightly different in their application. A patent is a property right with a somewhat limited duration that mostly pertains to an invention.

Inventions are usually what they sound like, something some industrious folk physically, mechanically or scientifically create.

Patents are territorial rights according to UK patent law, meaning they only give the patent holder their respective rights in the UK and the rights to prevent others from bringing the patented products into the UK.

For your invention to be eligible for a patent in the UK, it must be entirely new. That is, it has never been introduced to the public in any way, shape or form worldwide before the patent is filed.

Finally, the invention must be capable of some sort of industrial application. This means it must be applicable in any industry, taking an actively practical form of a device, product, or industrial process.

What is a Trademark?

Now trademarks are a little bit more interesting. A trademark is any brand name, slogan or logo.

A service mark is the same thing for all intents and purposes, except that it pertains to the source of the products and/or services rather than the goods themselves.

Though the two are distinctly different, they’re often used interchangeably to refer to each other. Unlike copyrights and patents, trademarks don’t have to expire after any number of years.

Trademark rights rely on the actual application, so long as it’s ineffective use, it stays where it is. Provided that trademark use is commercial, mainly to indicate their source.

Similarly, trademark registrations can last forever, given that you submit the proper paperwork and keep your fees paid regularly. It’s worth pointing out that not all trademarks have to be registered.

So long as you use a trademark in commerce, it automatically comes under the protection of common law rights.

You’ll know a trademark is registered if it has the little ® symbol stuck to it. But if it isn’t, you’re allowed to use both TM and SM for products and services, signifying that you’ve used common law to garner your trademark.

Copyright infringement in music stats
Copyright infringement is increasingly common in the Internet age. Image credit: Statista

So, now that we have a clearer distinction between the various types of protection one’s properties can have, we can further delve into copyright infringement. We know the basic definition, but the devil is in the details.

To try and comprehend copyright infringement, we’ll try and simplify the many odd facets of UK copyright law according to the “Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988” (have yourself a fun read with that one).

According to the act, copyright infringements may take place pretty easily, leaving you to face legal action without much prior notice potentially, so here are a few simple examples to put things into perspective:

  • Any form of public or private presentation that includes a copyrighted video without any acknowledgement or permission regarding the originator counts as a violation.
  • Music played on any website or on a video (like that “sick” montage of your call of duty kill streaks) without proper licensing or permission from the copyright holder(s) is a pretty common violation.
  • Any business, let’s say an online magazine, that uses artwork, graphics or content without the explicit permission of the owner of said works is also a common violation.

These are just a few examples. There are many more situations where a copyright infringement may occur. Before you go down the erroneous path of thinking that copyright infringement is using an exact copy of the work, you’d better think again.

A work doesn’t have to be identical to be considered infringing. It can also bear similarity and still count as copyright violation, in addition to the fact that quantity of work infringed and quality both count.

You’ll be pleased to know that not every use of copyright material is considered infringement.

By UK copyright law, some forms of using copyright material fall under the umbrella of fair use.

Under UK law, the use of copyright material is permitted under six main fair dealing scenarios:

  • For private study and/or exploration.
  • For examination or instruction.
  • For critique and/or quotation.
  • To report actual news events.
  • For parody and/or caricature.
  • For text and/or data mining.

Sounds simple enough, right?

In any case, the Copyright Licensing Agency Limited (CLA) is the sole licensing body as defined by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and it urges those interested in steering clear of copyright infringement to follow a few simple steps to keep out of the watchful eye of UK law:

  • Make sure to obtain the express permission necessary to copy protected material by purchasing the appropriate CLA licence, allowing you to meet the suitable demands of those who make daily use of copyright material and for copying extracts.
  • If, for whatever reason, you can’t seem to obtain a CLA licence, you have to directly communicate with the holder of the copyright for clearance every time you need to make use of their work for any purpose and see to any relevant fees.
  • Ensure to check with and adhere to specific terms of use relevant to any direct subscriptions or purchased documents supplied directly; this includes any online formats.
  • If you’re fixing to use content published online, keep your eyes peeled for copyright icons titled “What can I do with this content?” The way this is set up is to let the general public (and private sectors as well) know what publishers want done (and not done) with their copyright material,
  • Make an effort to create internal policies that best describe to all viable employees how to utilise copyright-protected materials, which helps substantially reduce the risk of copyright violation.

So, don’t take people’s stuff without proper permission and adequate (and boring) paperwork. In case you want to use an existing paragraph or two, rewrite those paragraphs to avoid similarity and plagiarism. Or, simply credit the source from where you are copying those paragraphs. It’s extremely easy to ignore all the red tape, but it’s not as easy to ignore the wrath that ensues afterwards, given enough time and complaints.

  • 20% of global internet traffic involves peer-to-peer sharing of infringing copyrighted content (Sandvine 2022 Global Internet Phenomena Report)
  • 63% of people access unlicensed copyrighted content online (IPSOS 2018 consumer survey)
  • 36% of internet users aged 16-24 engage in illegal streaming of copyrighted content (Ofcom 2021 Media Nations report)
  • 39% of software installed on personal computers globally is unlicensed and infringing (BSA Global Software Survey 2018)
  • Music piracy causes estimated economic losses of $12.5 billion annually (Recording Industry Association of America 2021 data)
  • 44% of infringing links targeted by takedown notices are re-uploaded within hours (Masnick 2022 study on takedown notice effectiveness)
  • 78% of takedown notices sent to Google target copyright infringement rather than other policy violations (Google Transparency Report 2022)
  • The top three countries for content piracy measured by the number of impressions are the United States, Russia, and India (Muso 2022 Piracy Tracker global data)

These statistics indicate copyright infringement remains a major issue online, with large volumes of illegal music, video, and software distribution. However, infringement continues evolving as copyright holders attempt to curb piracy through takedowns.

By now, you should have a clearer idea of copyright infringement, especially if you find yourself on the UK side of things.

With the advent of media, the Internet and people’s access to all sorts of information, the law struggles to keep up and figure out proper channels to give everyone their dues. However, they’ll still try anyway, and it does no good to try and skirt the law.

So, be smart, source your stuff, ask nicely and take responsibility.

Think we missed something? Do you have anything to add of your own? Perhaps you’d like to tell us how your day’s going? Drop us your thoughts in the comments section below, and we’ll listen attentively.

Major Lawsuits and Penalties

Copyright holders often pursue lawsuits against major perpetrators of infringement seeking damages. Some high-profile cases include:

  • Napster music piracy service was sued by record labels in 1999, ultimately leading to its shutdown. The lawsuit helped establish clear legal precedent around copyrighted music distribution online.
  • In 2005, the MPAA sued a BitTorrent index website called TorrentSpy, which ultimately paid $110 million in damages for facilitating mass copyright infringement.
  • Pirate Bay founders were sued by entertainment companies and given 1-year prison sentences plus fines for enabling illegal filesharing. The site was also ordered blocked by ISPs in some regions.
  • Megaupload file hosting site and its founder, Kim Dotcom, were indicted in 2012 for criminal copyright violations. The FBI seized and shut down Megaupload domains worth $175 million.
  • Individual filesharers have also faced lawsuits, such as the nearly $2 million penalty against Minnesota woman Jammie Thomas-Rasset for illegally downloading 24 songs.

Major platforms like YouTube use automated takedown systems to avoid liability for user-uploaded infringing content. But knowingly enabling or encouraging mass copyright infringement can still lead to major damage awards in court.

  • Don’t repost full articles or long excerpts without permission – stick to short quotes and always attribute.
  • Avoid using stock photos with unclear licensing or free image sites where anyone can upload copyrighted pictures. Only use reputable stock image providers.
  • When using a song snippet, look up the publisher and seek permission whenever possible, even for short segments.
  • Don’t include protected trademarks like logos in any merchandise without consent from the brand owner.
  • Don’t reupload videos containing copyrighted music or significant portions of copyrighted works – stream legally or link to the original instead.
  • Formally register your original content via copyright office filings to make enforcement easier if infringed.
  • If in doubt, contact the rights holder directly to request authorization for using copyrighted material.
  • If you operate a UGC platform, implement a DMCA takedown policy, and promptly comply with valid notices.
  • Stay educated on fair use and copyright exceptions that may legally allow limited use of protected works.

Being proactive reduces infringement risk. Seek licenses when possible, register your IP, and leverage protections like fair use when incorporating others’ work thoughtfully.

Q: Can I use short quotes from copyrighted works without permission?

A: Yes, short quotes for purposes like commentary or criticism are generally permitted under fair use protections.

Q: How much of a song can I use without infringing copyright?

A: Even short segments require licensing from the rights holder. Get permission to reuse any identifiable lyrics or melodies.

Q: Could I face fines or jail time for personal copyright infringement?

A: Criminal penalties are rare for personal use infringement. However, large-scale piracy for commercial gain could result in prosecution.

Q: Does posting copyrighted content on social media violate copyright?

A: Uploading significant portions of copyrighted material without authorization does violate copyright, even on social platforms.

Copyright laws strive to balance protecting creators’ intellectual property rights with allowing reasonable uses like commentary and parody. While the digital landscape has enabled infringement to spread, copyright holders actively enforce claims against violators. Educating yourself on infringement risks is the best way content creators and consumers can avoid lengthy lawsuits and penalties.

Seeking licenses, attributing properly, and leveraging fair use thoughtfully are key steps for legally incorporating copyrighted works. We can all access and share amazing protected content with diligence while respecting creators’ rights.

SEE ALSO: Non-Copyrighted Images – How To Use Them

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