infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal
authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright
owner under section 106 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United
States Code). These rights include the right to reproduce or distribute
a copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context, downloading or
uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority
constitutes an infringement.
Penalties for copyright
infringement include civil and criminal penalties. In general, anyone
found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay
either actual damages or "statutory" damages affixed at not less than
$750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed. For "willful"
infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed. A
court can, in its discretion, also assess costs and attorneys' fees.
For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504, 505.
copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including
imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per
For more information, please see the Web site of the U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov, especially their FAQ's at www.copyright.gov/help/faq.
This statement was prepared by the U.S. Department of Education, June 2010.