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Can I Go to Jail for Copyright, Trademark or Patent Violations?

3D illustration of a folder, focus on a tab with the word infringement. Conceptual image of copyright law
By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 05, 2019

If you noticed the warning on the last movie you watched, then you saw that copyright violations are punishable by up to five years in prison. And then you yawned.

Seriously, copyright piracy is a crime. So is trademark infringement. Patent infringement is not, but that could change.

The real question is, can you go to jail for violating laws that protect copyrights, trademarks, and patents? The answer is, of course, but it's not likely unless you are a colossal scoff-law.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is serious about copyright enforcement. With encouragement from the entertainment industry, they will shut you down if you have been downloading pirated movies like a hoarder. Even the occasional movie pirate can get caught. In one case, a young man downloaded several movies from a website that distributed them for free. After receiving a summons, he called a lawyer in tears. Fortunately, the case settled for $2,500 and nobody went to jail. But that was an expensive DVD collection.


Though less common, criminal penalties can attach to trademark violations. More often, private parties will sue when they think someone has violated their trademarks. If a plaintiff wins the lawsuit, however, then it's a whole new ball game. Judges order losers to pay judgments, fines, court costs, and other monetary penalties. In trademark cases, they may also issue injunctions that tell infringers not to continue using trademarks. Disrespect the robe, and you could be held in contempt.


Patents are a different animal. They are in the same species of intellectual property as copyrights and trademarks, but there are no criminal remedies for infringement. But attorney Brooke Blackman, writing for IpWatchDog, says there oughta be a law. "Given the current state of the U.S. patent system, with all of the legislative and judicial developments further weakening the effectiveness of patents, it may finally be time to consider adding patent infringement to the list of IP crimes under federal law," she said.

That's legalese for "there oughta be a law." You can use that phrase, too, because we didn't copyright or trademark it. But Maybe Mickey & Silvia did, so check it out here.

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