While there are many consequences of breaking copyright laws, the most common include monetary fines, loss of property, loss of freedom, or loss of employment. Typically, copyright law violations involve someone attempting to profit from, distribute, or claim material to which they have no rights. In some countries, copyright infringement — the use of copyrighted material without permission or the right of ownership — could carry the penalty of criminal and civil punishment if the copyright owner should choose to file a claim and take the guilty party to court.
In almost all cases of copyright law violations, no legal action takes place unless the copyright owner actively files a legal claim against the infringing party. Civil penalties faced by a person found guilty of breaking these laws might include monetary fines based on the scale of the violation as well as monetary compensation for time and resources spent tracking and prosecuting the violation. The court might award additional money for consideration of wages lost by the copyright owner.
Penalties for breaking copyright laws can often scale in magnitude. A key consideration is whether the violator attempted to or did receive money for the materials. The copyright owner might also choose to pursue all or only some of the violations in court.
Criminal penalties might include jail time, an order to perform community service, probation, loss of property, and the risk of lost work or educational privileges. Equipment used by the guilty party to perform the infringing acts might be subject to confiscation or seizure. For example, if a computer or server have been used to distribute copyrighted music, videos, or written materials without permission, whether through person-to-person (P2P) networking or hard-copy "bootleg" distribution, they could both be subject to potential seizure or confiscation as accessories to the crime.
Sometimes, a legal letter is sent to a person who is suspected of breaking copyright laws. This letter, also called a cease-and-desist notice, typically demands that the infringing or violating activity be stopped immediately. If the infringement takes place online, additional notices might be sent to the various networks or hosting providers that the violator uses to distribute copyrighted materials.
Should the person breaking the law be a student or member of a university, he or she might face expulsion. In addition, universities often have other pre-determined penalties for copyright infringement. Some schools require signed statements to uphold university policies, and violators might lose of access to university resources, face the university's judicial system, or be suspended.