What is Infringement?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Infringement is the denial or disregard for a legal right or binding agreement. Most often, the term refers to the infringement of intellectual property, such as the illegal use or production of copyrighted or patented materials. Though always a problematic legal issue, intellectual property infringement has exploded in the wake of the Internet, through practices such as piracy, file-sharing, and illegal download websites.

Patent infringement is the unauthorized use, manufacture, sale, etc of a patented product or process.
Patent infringement is the unauthorized use, manufacture, sale, etc of a patented product or process.

A creator of a piece of material, such as a song, manuscript, painting, or character, usually has at least an implied exclusive copyright. This means that the creator is the only person allowed to reproduce the work, create derivatives such as sequels, display the work, or perform it in public. Creators often seek to protect this implied right by applying for legal documentation of their creation through patent offices or copyrighting organizations. The process of patenting or copyrighting material creates a legal record of the creator, date of creation, and pertinent identifying details that can be used as a defense of copyright in case of an infringement issue.

Making unauthorized copies of digital media for friends is a form of copyright piracy.
Making unauthorized copies of digital media for friends is a form of copyright piracy.

Since most creative artists do not have the facility or desire to handle production and distribution of their work, they may offer licenses that allow others to use the work legally. Licenses offer another party a set of specific ways in which they can use the work, usually in return for a fee known as a royalty. Using a copyrighted work without a license generally constitutes infringement.

Infringement is considered a serious crime because it denies the creator and others involved in the creation process, such as a production company or record label, the profits owed to them for use. In some cases, people engaging in infringement do not monetarily profit from the piracy, such as by offering a song for free through a file-sharing website. Nevertheless, since the creator is denied his or her royalty for use, anyone who distributes, receives, or uses copyrighted material without a license may be charged with infringement, regardless of whether it was done for free.

Legal penalties for infringement are typically monetary fines paid to compensate the victim for both lost profits and damages. A person or group convicted of infringement will also sometimes be held responsible for all court and attorney fees, and be subject to the seizure of all merchandise or equipment associated with the crime. In rare cases, criminal charges may be filed instead of civil charges, which can lead to jail time as well as fines if successfully proven.

Book authors have implied exclusive copyrights to their work.
Book authors have implied exclusive copyrights to their work.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I like to visit the trade days that come around about once a month. I get great deals on things like purses, shoes, and other items. I get "name-brand" purses for twenty dollars. It will have the brand labeled somewhere on the purse.

Now, I feel like I have been violated. I honestly thought they were real. They may be real but, after reading this article, I would lean towards some kind of trademark infringement going on.


@wander- You are so right! My husband and I watch the show Pawn Stars. People bring in what they think are valuable items. Many times, it turns out that they are reproductions. They can look just like the original product. However, when the experts come in, they then realize that it is a trademark infringement.


One of the things that has always bothered me about infringement on intellectual property is how lawyers can completely target the wrong people with their ridiculous threatening letters.

For many people that are fans of various books, games, and television series, writing about the characters is a way to support their favorite show, not infringe on a copyright. Most fan fiction authors even give full credit to the original creator, who they often worship.

There are many famous people that support the fan fiction movement but there are those that guard their intellectual property with an iron fist. I think it is ridiculous to attack your own fans who are just trying to support you through their own creativity. It is not like anyone makes money off of the fan fiction they write.


If you ever get a chance to visit a market in Asia that sells various goods you will probably be shocked by the amount of fake goods available. The copyright laws of many countries in Asia are generally not enforced which leaves a lot of room for copyright infringement by individuals looking to earn a buck.

China is infamous for its questionable products and it is easy to come by high quality DVD copies, knockoffs of designer clothes and inexpensive versions of popular toys. It is a good thing to note though that you usually get what you pay for. That three dollar watch isn't exactly going to be quality, no matter what label it has pasted on it.

Post your comments
Forgot password?