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Houston Copyright Laws and What They Could Mean For You

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

Houston Copyright Laws and What They Could Mean For You

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The Internet has made it easy to get free copies of the latest songs and movies from any one of a number of file sharing websites. It takes only a few minutes to search for the title you want and download it to your computer.

That is pretty much all it takes to enjoy free entertainment. Over the course of a few months, you could save hundreds of dollars by using free downloads instead of purchasing the items. If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because the music and movies you just got for free have put you at risk of being criminally prosecuted for copyright infringement and piracy in Houston. You could face imprisonment and fines up to $250,000 for a first offense.

Houston Copyright and Piracy Laws

Your right to claim ownership of the music, poetry, movies, software and other original works you create is one that has a long history in America. The basis for today’s Houston laws protecting you against individuals who would try to claim your work as their own is contained in Article I of the U.S. Constitution.

Federal copyright law protects works of original authorship. It does not protect ideas or thoughts. The work must be in a fixed, tangible format to be protected. For example, someone who gives a speech cannot claim copyright infringement if what is said is quoted later on by another person because the original speech was not a tangible item. A written transcript of the speech or an audio recording of the speech are fixed, tangible items that would be protected under existing copyright laws.

Items that can be protected against copyright infringement, which is also referred to as piracy, include such things as:

  • Novels
  • Poetry
  • Movies
  • Computer software
  • Architectural drawings
  • Paintings and other works of art
  • Songs
  • Textbooks
  • Plays

Copyright laws recognize your right to the work you create from the moment you create it. This means you, and only you, have the right to:

  • Make copies of your work
  • Create other works based upon the original
  • Distribute and sell your work
  • Display, market and perform your work

Registration of your work with the U.S. Copyright Office is not mandatory to protect yourself from Houston piracy or copyright infringement. It does, however, create a record of your claim to the work that can be used in court to prove your right to it.

Houston Piracy and Copyright Infringement Penalties

Copying something that does not bear the familiar copyright notice does not mean you have the right to copy or otherwise infringe upon the rights of the creator of the work. Penalties for Houston piracy violations can take the form of civil or criminal sanctions.

Someone who believes that you have violated their rights can sue you for money damages in a Houston civil court. Besides the actual damages that the author of the work can prove in court, federal copyright law also permits the court to issue an injunction against you to prevent future acts of piracy by you. The court may also award the author statutory damages over and above actual damages.

Statutory damages can be up to $150,000 for each work that was infringed upon. It should be noted that teenagers are not immune from being held responsible for illegally downloading music or movies. In fact, parents can be held responsible for their children’s actions and be subjected to civil damages.

Criminal penalties for piracy and copyright infringement can be even more severe than the civil sanctions. A piracy in Houston is punishable as a federal crime. Making to copies of a copyright protected item within any six-month period can be punished by up to five years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 for a first offense.

How Will Anyone Find Out?

If you think that no one will know if you violate copyright laws by copying or downloading someone else’s work, think again. Trade organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America monitor what happens with copyrighted materials belonging to their members. They actively promote criminal and civil actions against Houston piracy and copyright infringement.

Houston Defenses to Copyright Infringement

The most common defense to allegations of copyright infringement and piracy violations in Houston is the doctrine of Fair Use. This doctrine allows the copying or use of a protected work or portions of it under any of the following circumstances:

  • Use of portions for a news story or for a critical review
  • Use of a parody of the work as social commentary
  • Non-commercial uses for educational purposes

The application of Fair Use in a copyright infringement case depends upon the circumstances of the use. The facts and evidence presented in each case would determine if the doctrine would succeed as a defense. If you have been charged with violating copyright laws, a Houston copyright infringement and piracy attorney might be of assistance.


Have you been accused of piracy? Contact the The Law Office of Greg Tsiros for experienced criminal defense.

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