What are the Penalties for Illegal Downloading?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 29 January 2020
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The penalties for illegal downloading vary by country, but the gravest penalties for illegal downloading are usually fines. It is possible to serve time in a prison for downloading a film, music, or other item illegally, but most areas recognize that this punishment does not fit the crime. In most cases, a very high monetary fine will be imposed, but no jail time will be demanded. Even so, when Internet piracy can possibly result in jail time, it is very important to obey the law even if the chances of being prosecuted are minimal. Fines, where they exist, are often extremely inflated and can reach more than a hundred thousand times the purchase price of the individual song or film.

In some areas, a person can be sent to prison for illegal downloading. The length of the sentence is usually shorter for a person who only downloads and does not upload any files. As people who download files typically download many files, it is relatively uncommon to see prison sentences related to the number of files downloaded. To do so could result in people serving life sentences for music downloads.


Fines are by far the most common penalty for Internet piracy. The fines someone might be expected to pay differ depending on the area where the crime occurred. Even people who might otherwise be treated leniently, such as children, are usually not immune from penalties for this type of illegal activity. When children cannot be prosecuted, media companies usually go after parents.

The precise amount of the fine is often many times the purchase price of the individual file. Fines for this type of crime are usually considered different than fines someone might pay for stealing a physical CD from a store and are often much higher than the fine for theft. It is sometimes left to a jury to decide how much the accused criminal must pay per file. People who are prosecuted for file sharing are often charged with startlingly high fines because each individual file can be added on to the total fine.

Some areas do not have penalties for illegal downloading, but these areas usually have restrictions on the type of downloading permissible. For example, some areas allow downloading for personal use but do not allow uploading of files for sharing. Other areas allow files to be shared in any way at all without penalties, although money may be collected in other ways to compensate copyright holders. The penalties for illegal downloading can be quite serious, so it is very important to understand the local laws.


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Post 8

There are no penalties in the US for downloading movies from Torrents etc. There are however penalties for sharing. But here is the tricky part: a lot of software out there (to name one Vuze) allow you to download, but as you are downloading, you are also sharing.

The only people who get busted are the ones that, after finishing downloading something, they leave it in the same 'shared folder', so the file gets shared, and that's illegal.

I know all this because I was told directly from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). They gave me the example of the drug dealer. If you buy it and use it for yourself, you may not get busted because what they are after are the people who sold it to you. Same goes with files sharing. Downloading is fine, sharing is not.

Post 5

@post 1: That's still considered theft by the copyright owners.

Post 3

I agree that illegal downloading should become a law and whoever violates it should be given a serious penalty.

Post 2

Just recently a student was sued for downloading and sharing 30 songs illegally for $670 000. It's strongly recommended to stay anonymous and safe when downloading such stuff.

Post 1

What happens if someone downloads a few episodes of a show and gets warning letters, but they purchase the box set as soon as it's out anyway?

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