copyright infringement vs shoplifting

I wrote this as response to a comment on Lindi’s blog about “copywrite infringement” and thought I would share it.

First, a pet peeve. It’s copyright infringement. It refers to the right — a bunch of rights, really — the rights to translate, reproduce, publicly perform, adapt (create a derivative work), be identified as the author of the work and preserve the integrity of the work. It varies from country to country, and sometimes restricts the right to rent, transmit works digitally or display works publicly.

Many activities which would constitute infringement in one context are perfectly legal in another. This is known as fair use (USA) or fair dealing (Canada).

As for punishment
If you shoplift 20 DVDs, you will be charged with theft under $5000. For this, in Canada, you can be fined $2000 or sentenced to up to six months in jail. (If they call it an indictable offense instead of a summary offense, you could get up to two years, but that is rare. §334)

If you download 20 DVDs from the Internet, you can be charged with copyright infringement. The plaintiff/crown don’t have to prove actual damages. They can collect statutory damages of $500 to $20,000. Per DVD. (§38.1)

So, let me sum that up:
– shoplift 20 DVDs. maximum fine in Canada: $2000.
– download 20 DVDs. maximum fine in Canada: $400,000

The good part
The CD example is even more fun. In the USA, if you download a single CD, which is not legal, you are liable for infringement. But not just once — each track has its own copyright. So you’re liable for infringement, say, 10 times over.

But it gets better.

Each song has two copyrights: the copyright in the song itself (words and music), which typically belongs to the songwriter. And the copyright in the sound recording itself (which typically belongs to the label). So you’re now responsible for 20 counts of copyright infringement.

If they can prove you wilfully infringed this (not hard), than you are liable for statutory damages of up $150,000 per instance. (§504 (c)(2)) So downloading a CD could leave you liable for $3 million. (Stealing the CD from a store, on the other hand leaves you liable for $1000 (California §490).)

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