What Is Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement is the unauthorized use of copyrighted material in a way that violates the exclusive rights of the copyright holder.

By Matic Broz, editor-in-chief of Photutorial covering stock media, Adobe, and design. He founded Photutorial while finishing his PhD in computational biosciences.

Updated on | 0 Comments

If you buy something from a Photutorial link, we may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.
Copyright infringement

Definition of copyright infringement

Copyright infringement is the act of using copyrighted works without the permission of the copyright owner, exceeding what is allowed under copyright exceptions, or failing to comply with the conditions of a license. Infringement can occur in various forms, such as unauthorized downloading, copying, sharing, or distributing copyrighted content, including stock photos, videos, and music.

The violation of copyright law can lead to severe consequences, including hefty fines and even imprisonment. The purpose of copyright law is to encourage creativity by giving authors, artists, and creators exclusive rights to their works for a certain period.

How copyright infringement works

Copyright owners have exclusive rights to reproduce their works, distribute copies, perform the work, display the work publicly, and prepare derivative works based on the original. When someone else performs these actions without the copyright owner’s permission, they commit copyright infringement.

For instance, using a copyrighted stock photo on your blog without buying a license, uploading a copyrighted video to a social media site, or using copyrighted music in a video without permission, can all constitute copyright infringement.

Copyright infringement fees and penalties

The consequences of copyright infringement can be serious. The infringer may be ordered to pay damages to the copyright owner, which can be significant if the infringement is willful. In some severe cases, criminal charges may apply, leading to potential imprisonment.

Furthermore, infringement can lead to reputation damage. It can erode trust, and repeated offenses can lead to bans from platforms or networks.

In the United States

The U.S. Copyright Act allows for both civil and criminal penalties for copyright infringement.

Civil penalties can be quite significant, depending on the details of the violation. Statutory damages can range from $750 to $30,000 per work infringed upon. However, if the court finds that the infringement was committed willfully, the damages can increase up to $150,000 per work.

Criminal penalties include fines and jail time. For example, if the infringement was committed for commercial advantage or private financial gain, the offender can be sentenced to up to five years in prison and fined up to $250,000.

In the European Union

Penalties for copyright infringement in the European Union are determined by each member state’s national laws, but all follow the EU’s Enforcement Directive. It provides for both civil remedies (damages, injunctions) and criminal sanctions for infringement on a commercial scale.

According to Copyright.eu, the infringer might face penalties of up to 400,000€ and 4-year imprisonment.

In Asia

Asian countries also take copyright infringement seriously. In Japan, for example, violators can face imprisonment of up to 10 years or a fine of up to 10 million yen. In China, penalties can include fines and imprisonment, and the government has been making efforts to strengthen intellectual property rights enforcement.

These are just examples, and laws and penalties can vary greatly from one jurisdiction to another. Therefore, when using copyrighted content, especially in a global or online context, it’s essential to consider the laws of both the country where the content is being used and the country of the copyright owner.

How to avoid copyright infringement?

To avoid copyright infringement, always seek permission before using someone else’s work. Many online platforms offer royalty-free or licensed content like stock photos, videos, and music, which are safer to use. However, always read and understand the license agreement before use.

When in doubt, it’s wise to consult a legal professional or stick to creating your own content. That way, you’ll own the copyright.

» Protect yourself: Discover royalty-free stock image sites

Fair Use vs. Infringement

The concept of fair use allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research. However, it’s a complex legal doctrine and can’t be assumed. Misinterpreting fair use often leads to infringement.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons licenses give a flexible range of permissions to use the work. These licenses allow the creators to choose the permissions they want for their work, often allowing others to use the work freely as long as the original creator is attributed.

Royalty-free vs. free of charge

Royalty-free doesn’t mean free of charge. It refers to the right to use copyrighted material or intellectual property without the need to pay royalties for each use. However, the user might need to pay a one-time license fee initially.


Leave a Comment