A copyright violation is the unauthorized use of a copyrighted product. This may include commercial and non-commercial use. Copyright violations have soared in the wake of the Internet and the availability of digital copying programs. When using copyrighted material, it is important to understand all applicable laws and obtain legal permission for use.
A copyright means just what it says: the right to copy material. The owner of a piece of original material has the exclusive right to copy and sell that material, though this may be subject to fair use laws that allow public access in some cases. Generally, the owner copies and sells his or her material by making deals with companies that will legally reproduce and sell the material, or license it for downloading or sharing online. Some examples of material that can be copyrighted include songs, images, written material, or software code.
Copyright violation may be referred to as infringement, piracy, or theft. It may involve unlawful non-commercial reproductions of copyrighted material, such as through file sharing. One of the seminal battles that brought copyright law into the digital age was over the extremely popular music sharing program, Napster™. The program allowed users to share and trade copyrighted music files through digital formats, thus, in the view of critics, robbing musicians and record companies of the rightful profit for the copying of their property. A few users of file-sharing programs were later sued under copyright violation laws, but the vast majority of users did not face legal charges.
Though copyright violation is often spoken of in relation to digital technology, it is hardly a new concept. In the early days of printing presses, bastardized copies of new books were quickly available at rival publishers, should the original publisher be so foolish as to run out of stock. Even William Shakespeare suffered from a form of copyright violation, as rival acting groups would surreptitiously attend his plays and jot down as much of the dialogue as could be remembered for use in their own productions. A growing problem with copyright violation lead to one of Europe's first copyright laws: the Statute of Anne in 1710, which granted printers and their clients the exclusive right to produce copies for a period of 14 years.
Most copyrights have a statute of limitations, which means that the material becomes freely available after the copyright expires. In some cases, only the original author can extend a copyright, but if rights are owned by businesses or held as part of an estate, they may be extended by the respective owners. Different regions may have different laws regarding when copyrights expire, so it is important to be certain that a work is in the public domain before publishing or quoting.