Copyright infringement is the unauthorized use of copyrighted material in a manner that violates one of the copyright owner's exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce or perform the copyrighted work, or to make derivative works that build upon it.
For electronic and audio-visual media, unauthorized reproduction and distribution is often referred to as piracy or theft (an early reference was made by Alfred Tennyson in the preface to his poem 'The Lover's Tale' in 1879 where he mentions that sections this work "have of late been mercilessly pirated".) However there is no legal basis for this and indeed in one US copyright lawsuit the judge ordered the plaintiff's legal team to stop using the term. Critics of the use of "software piracy" to describe such practices contend that it unfairly compares a crime that makes no victim, except some hypothetical lost sales, with the violent actions of organized thieves and murderers; in addition, it also confuses mere illegal copying of material with the intentional and malicious penetration of computer systems to which one does not legally have access. As a consequence, "software piracy" is a somewhat loaded word.
Methods of copyright infringement
Illegal copying of copyrighted material may occur through organized black market reproduction and distribution channels, sometimes with blatantly open commercial sale (as along the sidewalks of Manhattan's notorious Canal Street, or London's Camden Town), or through purely private copying or downloading to avoid paying a purchase price. With digital technology, most modern piracy involves an exact and perfect copy of the original made from a hard copy or downloaded over the Internet. One of the most publicised cases was the spread of unreleased Madonna songs including her 2000 hit "Music" prior to the official commercial release date.
The unlawful downloading and sharing of recorded music in the form of MP3 and other small, lossy audio files is still widespread, even after the demise of Napster and a series of infringement suits brought by the American recording industry against music-sharing individuals seemingly chosen by random. Promotional screener DVDs distributed by movie studios (often for consideration for awards) are a common source of unauthorised copying when movies are still in theatrical release, and the MPAA has attempted to restrict their use. Movies are also still copied by someone sneaking a camcorder into a movie theater and secretly taping the projection, although such copies as are very rarely of anything other than appalling quality compared to even budget VHS titles produced legitimately.
Though many jurisdictions impose criminal penalties for certain blatant acts of copyright infringement and may try to stop certain infringing imports at the border, copyright infringement is still mainly prosecuted through private lawsuits by the copyright holder or their exclusive licensees. When successful, these lawsuits will typically impose monetary damages against the infringer as well as injunctions against future infringing uses.
Many infringement claims involve simple cases of copyright infringement where the copying is obvious. Others, however, are more difficult to resolve because copyright protection is not limited to exact copying. It is inevitable that creative and commercial works will take inspiration from the culture at large, and it is often challenging to determine when this "inspiration" has crossed the line into infringement, especially in the case of musical works. There also may be a question of whether the allegedly infringed work is even protected by copyright. Unprotected works may include, for example, compilations of facts that lack the requisite creativity to be covered by copyright, or those works that are in the public domain because the copyright term expired.
Copyright notices-often just a simple statement on the work itself of the year protection was acquired and by whom-are not always a good indication of whether or not a work is protected because most countries do not require such formalities, and so lack of notice does not mean lack of protection. Courts may also subsequently decide in the context of an infringement suit that the work did not meet the minimum criteria for copyright protection, even if the work had been previously registered by a government or private copyright agency. However, copyright notices give at least some indication of whom to contact if permission is needed, and when a copyright will expire, though the copyright terms of preexisting works are sometimes legislatively extended (as with the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act) or even restored after expiration (as with the Directive on harmonising the term of copyright protection in the European Union).
To avoid infringement claims, the right to make use of a copyrighted work can be acquired through an explicit contract or license with the author or publisher, through purchasing a lawful copy (which may provide a number of rights to the purchaser, as under the first-sale doctrine), and for certain types of media, statutory licenses (such as for reproducing and recording musical works under U.S. copyright law). Even without going through such channels to get prior authorization for use of the copyrighted material, doctrines such as fair use or fair dealing may provide potentially broad defenses to infringement claims. The failure of a copyright holder to bring a timely lawsuit against known infringers may later block such a claim by establishing an implied license, as may other acts or omissions that could informally signal consent to use the work.
Copyright misuse, the exploitive or restrictive use of a copyright by its legal holder, is sometimes informally called reverse piracy .
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