The internet has rightly been compared to the settling of the American West. It is the final frontier. P2P and sharing software have made file sharing a simple process that anyone can learn in under a few minutes. New laws have begun cracking down on this behavior. Everyone remembers when Napster was shut down in 2001, but since then copyright laws have become more severe.
Many of the laws regarding illegal downloading and digital piracy exist at the federal level. Additional local and state laws exist as well. For instance, Texas Tech University has specific guidelines (30.22.4 and 30.22.5) for what constitutes fair use with music and video sharing. This is because university students often find academic reasons to share materials within a classroom.
The most common digital piracy laws provide the majority of the protections needed by owners of creative content. While this is a brief overview of the laws, if you are unsure whether or not your actions constitute proper content use, contact an attorney who has experience in digital piracy.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 is one of the most well-known laws. This law makes it illegal to work around copyright protections, even if the copy is made for personal use. Preserving work that is already owned by changing the format of the property may offer the user some protections. For instance, making a DVD of some VHS tapes may be allowed. However, hacking a video game to use offline to avoid ownership confirmation is definitely not.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is an international treaty between the United States and a host of other countries including Japan, the UK, the United Arab Emirates, and others. The point of this law is to protect digital piracy when a creative work may cross borders to another country. This treaty does not just target digital content, but also pharmaceuticals, currency, and other trade goods.
The No Electronic Theft law is a federal mandate that elevates civil copyright violations to a federal crime. Making a copy of a CD for a friend can result in charges of up to a maximum $250,000 in fines.
While search and seizure laws protect American citizens in a broad sense, lesser restrictions are placed on border officers conducting border searches. Laptop and electronic devices can be searched by border officers if they have reasonable suspicion, even without probable cause. By re-entering the US, you may find your personal digital privacy violated at what may seem like a whim.
Signed in 2008, the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act imposes even stricter penalties for copyright infringement. This law essentially gives law enforcement the right to take personal property of those suspected of copyright infringement. Seized property is sometimes not returned after a search, so those who keep extensive personal and work information on their personal computers should be careful.
Finally, those who put their names on copied or plagiarized work are committing fraud. In some cases, putting your name on a software crack or even an artist’s album is considered fraud, even if the artist’s name is clearly attached to the shared product. Know your protections and limitations before making copies.
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