Copyright Infringement Penalties

Copyright infringement is the act of violating any of a copyright owner’s exclusive rights granted by the federal Copyright Act.

There are three elements that must be in place in order for the infringement to occur.

  • ​The copyright holder must have a valid copyright.
  • ​The person who is allegedly infringing must have access to the copyrighted work.
  • ​The duplication of the copyrighted work must be outside the exceptions.

The legal penalties for copyright infringement are

  • ​Infringer pays the actual dollar amount of damages and profits.
  • ​The law provides a range from $200 to $150,000 for each work infringed.
  • ​Infringer pays for all attorneys fees and court costs.
  • ​The Court can issue an injunction to stop the infringing acts.
  • ​The Court can impound the illegal works.
  • ​The infringer can go to jail.


Copyright infringement and plagiarism are two different issues. Copyright is a federal law that protects original works from being copied and distributed without the author’s permission unless one of the exceptions applies. Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work as one’s own or lack of attribution. There is no federal or state plagiarism law but there can certainly be severe repercussions for plagiarizing.

Copyright infringement example: Incorporating an entire poem by Maya Angelou into a published work without her permission. The poem is property attributed to Ms. Angelou.

Plagiarism example: Using a line or even an entire poem by Maya Angelou in a paper and not attributing the poem to the author or citing the source. It would appear that the poem is the creation of the person writing the paper and not Maya Angelou.

For more information on plagiarism, see Purdue’s Online Writing Lab at