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Will the government really throw movie pirates in jail?

Many people in Cincinnati have likely seen the notice that flashes up before every movie warning that copying the show and then redistributing it can be punished as a federal crime.

Given the prevalence of pirated movies, television shows, music and the like, however, few people may take such warnings seriously, thinking that the worst that can happen is that someone will be told to stop distributing pirated copies and, quite possibly, be ordered to pay appropriate royalties.

In fact, though, the federal government does prosecute copy infringement as a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison, in addition to fines, when certain conditions are met.

The elements of federal copyright infringement require that a person, with the intention of doing so, either to make replicas or to distribute replicas of a validly copyrighted work.

Certain minimum thresholds of how many copies are involves, as well as the dollar value thereof, also apply with respect to these serious charges. Additionally, the government has to prove that the perpetrator's motive was to make money or to gain an edge in business.

It should be noted, however, that if a person does not satisfy all of the elements of felony copyright infringement, he still may be charged with a misdemeanor in certain circumstances. For example, someone who is illegally performing a work that was copyrighted can be prosecuted for a misdemeanor.

Ohio residents who do not take the warnings they see before watching a movie seriously really should consider doing so, as the government can and will treat copyright infringement as a white collar crime in certain circumstances. Those who face these sorts of accusations should consider evaluating their options for mounting a legal defense to the charges.

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