Infringement is the denial or disregard for a legal right or binding agreement. Most often, the term refers to the infringement of intellectual property, such as the illegal use or production of copyrighted or patented materials. Though always a problematic legal issue, intellectual property infringement has exploded in the wake of the Internet, through practices such as piracy, file-sharing, and illegal download websites.
A creator of a piece of material, such as a song, manuscript, painting, or character, usually has at least an implied exclusive copyright. This means that the creator is the only person allowed to reproduce the work, create derivatives such as sequels, display the work, or perform it in public. Creators often seek to protect this implied right by applying for legal documentation of their creation through patent offices or copyrighting organizations. The process of patenting or copyrighting material creates a legal record of the creator, date of creation, and pertinent identifying details that can be used as a defense of copyright in case of an infringement issue.
Since most creative artists do not have the facility or desire to handle production and distribution of their work, they may offer licenses that allow others to use the work legally. Licenses offer another party a set of specific ways in which they can use the work, usually in return for a fee known as a royalty. Using a copyrighted work without a license generally constitutes infringement.
Infringement is considered a serious crime because it denies the creator and others involved in the creation process, such as a production company or record label, the profits owed to them for use. In some cases, people engaging in infringement do not monetarily profit from the piracy, such as by offering a song for free through a file-sharing website. Nevertheless, since the creator is denied his or her royalty for use, anyone who distributes, receives, or uses copyrighted material without a license may be charged with infringement, regardless of whether it was done for free.
Legal penalties for infringement are typically monetary fines paid to compensate the victim for both lost profits and damages. A person or group convicted of infringement will also sometimes be held responsible for all court and attorney fees, and be subject to the seizure of all merchandise or equipment associated with the crime. In rare cases, criminal charges may be filed instead of civil charges, which can lead to jail time as well as fines if successfully proven.