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What is a Breach of Copyright?

By Brenda Scott
Updated May 16, 2024
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A copyright is a legal protection for original artistic or intellectual property, including literature, dramatic productions, art, software, web design, music and other artistic endeavors. These laws vary from country to country, but are designed to protect the author's right to profit from his efforts. Breach of copyright, also known as copyright infringement, happens when someone uses, displays, distributes, sells, performs or reproduces a copyrighted work without the owner's permission.

In the United States, it is not necessary for a person to actually register his work in order to obtain a copyright. According to the law, the copyright automatically exists upon the creation of any literary or artistic piece. Publishers, as well as many independent authors or artists, often choose to register their copyrights with the US Copyright Office in order to establish a public record of their ownership. If a person needs to take legal action against someone for a breach of copyright, his case is much easier to prove if he has a registered copyright.

Copyrights established in the US before 1978 lasted for a limited number of years and the owner was required to apply for an extension in order to maintain exclusive rights to his work. After 1978 the law were changed to extend the life of a copyright to 70 years after the death of the author or creator. Different nations may have unique copyright laws, but most have agreed by treaty to recognize the laws of other nations in safeguarding works internationally against breach of copyright.

Just as laws vary between jurisdictions, the punishments for breach of copyright vary some as well. In some countries, the unauthorized materials will be confiscated, such as illegal copies of a work, and all of the profits will be seized and given to the copyright owner. Courts may also require the offender to pay punitive fines and to reimburse the copyright owner for any lost profits.

Some common examples of breach of copyright include downloading music from the internet, making unauthorized copies of movies and music, and reproducing or downloading copyrighted material to share with others. It is estimated that over $4 billion US Dollars (USD) is lost globally every year just through illegally copied music. While most nations try to deter music piracy, a few others appear to be ineffective in enforcing copyright protection. Chile, Spain, Russia and China are among those nations where pirated music accounts for a large percentage of the total music sales, even though these countries all participate in the Berne Convention, which is dedicated to copyright protection.

Recognition of the importance of protecting artists and authors against breach of copyright is not new, and copyright laws have existed for centuries. In the late nineteenth century, the Berne convention was established to provide copyright protection internationally. The agreement, which is updated periodically, has over 160 signors who have agreed to give authors and artists from other nations the same protection against breach of copyright given to their own citizens.

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