Serving primarily as an office of record, the Copyright Office is not charged with enforcing the law it administers. Copyright infringement is generally a civil matter, which the copyright owner must pursue in federal court. Under certain circumstances, the infringement may also constitute a criminal misdemeanor or felony, which would be prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
If you believe that your copyright has been infringed and you anticipate a legal dispute, if you have not yet done so, it is advisable that a registration be made as soon as possible in order to secure the opportunity for valuable remedies and litigation advantages available for timely registration under the Copyright Act. If a work is registered prior to infringement or within three months of publication, statutory damages will be available as an option for monetary relief, and the recovery for attorney’s fees may be available. In addition, a registration made before or within five years of publication of the work provides a presumption of the validity of the copyright and the facts stated within the registration certificate. A certificate of registration (or a rejection of an application for copyright) is a prerequisite for U.S. authors seeking to initiate a suit for copyright infringement in federal district court. See Circular 1 Copyright Basics, and sections 410, 411, and 412 of the copyright law.
Please be advised that there is no provision in the copyright law or the practices of the Copyright Office regarding any type of protection known as the “poor man's copyright.” The mere act of placing a copy in the mail addressed to oneself does not secure statutory copyright protection for the work, nor will it serve as a substitute for registration of a claim to copyright in this Office in terms of legal and evidentiary value.
For more information, visit Copyright.gov.
Section 106 of the copyright law provides the owner of copyright in a work the exclusive right:
Section 501 of the copyright law states that “anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner …is an infringer of the copyright or right of the author.”;
Generally, under the law, one who engages in any of these activities without obtaining the copyright owner’s permission may be liable for infringement. Nevertheless, there are several limitations of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner. The copyright law provides exemptions from infringement liability by authorizing certain uses under particularized circumstances. These exemptions are enumerated generally in sections 107-122 of the copyright law.
Source: U.S. Copyright Office FAQ
The purpose of the Delgado Community College Libraries Copyright Compliance Policy is to provide a summary of U.S. copyright law as it relates to the use of text-based copyright-protected works in the library.
Should you wish to seek legal advice, the Copyright Librarian is unable to provide referrals or a list of attorneys. Your local or state bar association may be able to recommend a copyright attorney, or an attorney who specializes in intellectual property, arts, or entertainment law matters. Alternatively, you may wish to investigate whether a public interest organization that offers services to authors and copyright owners, such as Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, has a regional office in your area that may assist you with locating free or reduced fee legal services or assistance. In addition, local law schools may provide representation through clinical programs in Intellectual Property or Arts and Entertainment Law.
The possible penalties for being held liable for infringement can be quite severe, and include:
an injunction to prevent or restrain further infringement, which may include displaying, distributing, or otherwise infringing on a work (17 U.S.C. § 502)
an order to impound and possibly destroy infringing copies and the means to reproduce them (17 U.S.C. § 503)
a monetary fine of actual damages shown by the copyright holder and/or the infringer’s profits attributable to infringement, or statutory damages of between $750 and $30,000 per infringement. Statutory damages can increase to $150,000 if the plaintiff can show that the infringement was willful. Statutory damages may be reduced to $200 if the court finds that an “infringer was not aware and had no reason to believe that his or her acts constituted an infringement of copyright.” (17 U.S.C. § 504)
an order to pay the prevailing party’s costs and/or attorney’s fees (17 U.S.C. § 505)
In addition, if you willfully infringe another person’s copyright for commercial advantage or private financial gain, it can lead to criminal penalties, including additional fines, imprisonment for 3-10 years, and seizure and forfeiture of the equipment or means used to produce the infringing material. (17 U.S.C. § 506 and 18 U.S.C. § 2323)
Excerpted from Online Art Rights: Copyright Infringement