What constitutes criminal copyright infringement?

UPDATED: Mar 2, 2012

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What constitutes criminal copyright infringement?

I designed and sold a product on-line for a very small profit (less than $500). A company contacted me and told me to stop b/c the artwork was copyrighted. Unwilling to face a suit, I took it down. Now the company’s law firm is asking for the revenue I’ve earned from the sale to settle the matter. I think that’s fair. But they want me to sign a document admitting I infringed a copyright. Does that make me vulnerable to federal prosecution even if the document states the owner releases me of liability?

Asked on March 2, 2012 under Business Law, Missouri


FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

I would not sign any document stating that you allegedly infringed a copyright without having first consulted with an attorney that practices in that area of the law and obtain his or her advice on how to proceed. As to a criminal copyright infringement under federal and state law, one has to "knowingly" use a protected item under copyright law that is protected.

In the matter that you are writing about, it does not appear that the artwork that you were selling was copyrighted. The possibility of signing a document stating that you infringed a copyright could make you subject to a criminal matter but I doubt for $500 a criminal action at the federal or state level would be filed against you based upon my experience in such matters.

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