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What are the Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws?

Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under section 106 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code). These rights include the right to reproduce or distribute a copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority constitutes an infringement.

Penalties for copyright infringement include civil and criminal penalties. In general, anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or "statutory" damages affixed at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed. For "willful" infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed. A court can, in its discretion, also assess costs and attorneys' fees. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504, 505.

Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense.

For more information, please visit the U.S. Copyright Office at, especially their FAQ's at

(source US Dept of Education)

What are the Procedures for Handling Unauthorized Distribution of Copyrighted Materials & Illegal File Sharing?

Brazosport College procedures for handling copyright infringement (reproducing, downloading, or uploaded copyrighted work/material without appropriate permission) is as follows:

1. Submit a Copyright Infringement/Distribution Complaint (opens in new browser tab or window)

2. Copyright Agents determine if complaint is justified.

3. ID location/computer/user.

  • If unable to ID, block computer; remove material
  • IF ID'ed, contact for issue resolution


CopyRight@BC website is intended to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice. Please contact a licensed copyright lawyer if in need of counseling.


Phil Roche
Copyright Librarian

Linda McConnell
Digital Copyright Manager

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