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Federal Copyright Infringement vs. Federal Counterfeiting: Understanding the Distinctions

Friedman, Nemecek & Long, L.L.C.

Federal laws hold stringent rules and repercussions for copyright infringement and counterfeiting. Understanding the nuances of these two charges is crucial to mount a robust defense strategy.

Federal copyright infringement involves the unauthorized usage of copyrighted material that causes direct harm to the copyright holder's potential market. Federal counterfeiting refers to the unlawful creation and distribution of U.S. securities and obligations.

Knowing the specifics of these laws is half the battle. Any federal charge is serious and should be handled with seasoned legal counsel.

At Friedman Nemecek Long & Grant, L.L.C., we practice federal criminal defense. We are prepared to fight for our clients’ rights in Ohio. Contact us today at (216) 928-7700 or complete our online form to schedule a consultation.

Definition and Elements of Federal Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement refers to the unauthorized use, reproduction, distribution, or public display of copyrighted works, depriving the copyright holder of their exclusive rights. Governed by federal law, notably 17 U.S. Code § 506(a), copyright infringement can lead to civil litigation and even criminal charges.

The Copyright Act of 1976 is the primary legislation addressing copyright infringement in the United States. It gives the copyright owner exclusive rights to publicly reproduce, distribute, perform, and display the work. The law also permits the owner to authorize others to exercise these rights. Infringing on these rights can lead to serious penalties, including fines and imprisonment.

The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of four key components to establish a criminal copyright violation:

  • The alleged victim owned a valid copyright
  • The defendant infringed on that copyright, breaching the exclusive rights reserved for the copyright holder
  • The defendant's actions were willful, demonstrating a conscious and voluntary intention to violate the copyright
  • The defendant infringed on the copyright to gain a commercial advantage or private financial gain

Penalties and Consequences of Copyright Infringement

The penalties for federal copyright infringement are outlined in 18 U.S.C. § 2319. Convicted individuals can face severe criminal sanctions, including imprisonment and substantial fines.

Below are the possible sentences:

  • For a standard violation, the punishment can extend to a maximum of 1 year in prison.
  • If the retail value of the infringed works exceeds $2,500, the imprisonment term may rise to 5 years.
  • In cases where the offense is considered a felony and it's the defendant's second or subsequent violation, the term of imprisonment can increase up to 10 years.

Beyond the legal implications, individuals accused of copyright infringement can also experience detrimental effects on their personal and professional lives. An infringement charge can tarnish one's reputation, potentially leading to a loss of professional credibility, employment, and future career opportunities. Additionally, it could result in strained personal relationships and significant emotional distress.

Definition and Elements of Counterfeiting

Counterfeiting, in a federal context, pertains to falsifying or altering an obligation or security belonging to the United States. It involves creating counterfeit currency, securities, and similar items with the intent to deceive or defraud. Under Chapter 25 of Title 18, counterfeiting charges carry heavy penalties and can lead to significant legal consequences.

Federal Counterfeiting is primarily governed by the 18 U.S. Code § 471, which criminalizes the act of counterfeiting obligations or securities of the United States.

Furthermore, Chapter 25 of Title 18 includes additional laws related to counterfeiting, such as:

  • Uttering counterfeit obligations
  • Dealing in counterfeit obligations
  • Possessing plates, stones, or casts used to create an obligation or security

In a counterfeiting case, the prosecution must establish several crucial components. Firstly, the defendant must have falsely made or counterfeited an obligation or security of the United States. Secondly, the defendant must have acted with the intent to defraud.

Possible Penalties and Consequences of Federal Counterfeiting

The penalties associated with federal counterfeiting are codified in 18 U.S. Code § 471, and the punishment severity reflects the gravity of the offense. An individual convicted of counterfeiting can face up to 20 years in federal prison, not to mention a potential fine.

The repercussions of a counterfeiting conviction extend far beyond just the legal penalties. Like copyright infringement, counterfeiting charges can have a profound and lasting impact on one's personal life and professional career. The stigma attached to a federal conviction can lead to loss of employment, hinder future job opportunities, and strain personal relationships. Moreover, it can lead to a significant emotional toll, causing stress, anxiety, and a potential decline in mental health.

Distinctions Between Copyright Infringement and Counterfeiting

The elements distinguishing copyright infringement and counterfeiting charges from one another stem from the nature of the offenses.

Copyright infringement requires the existence of a valid copyright and the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of that copyrighted material. The severity of the infringement often hinges on the level of similarity between the original and the infringing work.

On the other hand, a counterfeiting charge necessitates proof that the defendant falsely made or altered an item of value with the intent to defraud. The severity of the charge is often influenced by the quality of the counterfeit item and the intent behind its production and distribution.

Seeking Legal Counsel

In legal matters involving federal crimes such as copyright infringement or counterfeiting, the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney is invaluable. A seasoned attorney understands the intricate facets of federal law, the court procedures, and the effective strategies to employ in defense. They can provide essential legal advice, assist in gathering evidence, negotiate on your behalf, and represent you in court, minimizing a conviction's potential penalties and repercussions.

At Friedman Nemecek Long & Grant, L.L.C., we have a track record in defending clients facing federal charges. If you are in Ohio and accused of copyright infringement or counterfeiting, connect with us online or at (216) 928-7700 to schedule a consultation.