Types of Content Copyright Infringement

Software companies, publishers and other information providers that rely on copyright to protect their products or services experience theft from copyright infringement daily. Infringement is synonymous with “piracy.” Content producers are especially vulnerable.

In the digital world it is easy to make perfect copies of everything, and equally difficult to protect what is legally supposed to be protected. It is common to copy content easily and quickly, and only a matter of clicking “send” to distribute perfectly copied content immediately to an unlimited audience.

“Content" in the piracy context means published text protected under the Copyright Act as a "literary works,” or information databases. “Content” is expressed in words, numbers or other verbal or numerical symbols, and communicated via newspapers, magazines, databases, reports, email newsletter, web pages, etc..

Copyright infringement may even be inadvertent, but the law does not exclude inadvertent pirates from copyright infringement. The penalties are particularly severe for those who "wilfully" infringe, meaning that they knew, or reasonably should have known, that they were violating the law, which can spawn litigation for money damages, injunctions, and in egregious cases, criminal prosecution and incarceration.

Widespread content copyright infringement occurs mostly in business, although individual certainly pirate online content. It may seem like a victimless act, and many acts of content infringement may seem technical and picayune. But content infringement is illegal. Therefore, we have composed a list of some of the most common ways in which content is infringed, focusing on those methods principally employed by business users.


The principal manner in which email can lead to copyright infringement in a business context is the copying and forwarding of email and attachments received from another person that have copyright notices and warnings on them. Emails, and perhaps the attachments, that you receive from other people are copyright protected. Therefore, when you print or forward someone else’s email without the author's permission, the author's exclusive rights are violated. Even attaching a legally obtained copy of a file to an email, or copying and pasting text from one document or email into another, can be a copyright infringement.

File Sharing

File sharing is the act of uploading or downloading a content file such as a WORD document, a PDF file, an e-book, etc., from or to an online service where anyone can copy the file. An online peer-to-peer site facilitates the sharing of a file. The most well known example of peer-to-peer file sharing sites are for music sharing. File sharing is also common on FTP sites (File Transfer Protocol). FTP allow the transfer of files across a network from one computer to another.


Networking is somewhat like file sharing. Copyright infringement can occur with the simple posting of copyrighted content on a public or private network, where other people can also access it, and then copy or further transfer the infringing content thereby compounding the infringement. If paid, premium-type content that is licensed to a user and is meant only for one person is placed on a network, the copyright infringement occurs because the license has exceeded the license terms by sharing, i.e., by wrongfully distributing the content on a public or private network. This type of copyright infringement from unauthorized file sharing across a network is common in industry, business, offices.


Photocopiers have long been a copyright infringement tool if used to copy material that is properly subject to copyright. If so, only the copyright holders has the exclusive right to copy (subject to exceptions such as Fair Use, our discussion of which is here.

Piracy and Counterfeiting

Piracy and counterfeiting is the copying, passing off and selling of copyrighted content as if it is original but it is actually owned by a third party.


There is no legal difference between between using a photocopier to infringe versus sending a file to a printer. The only difference is mechanical: with a photocopier the original copyrighted work is printed on paper and with a printer, the infringer is sending a digital file to be printed. It is useful to know when printing if the publisher has expressly limited how many times its copyrighted work may be printed under whatever license may have been issued with the content. In contrast to licensed, hard copy content, a publicly-accessible web page is the opposite: because it is publicly available and no license is needed to access the page, unlimited copies can be made unless the webpage states otherwise.


Scanning can create an unauthorized digital copy of licensed or otherwise copyrighted work. It is entirely possible to infringe copyrighted material without first having a license even without the physical copy in hand. To avoid infringement, it’s the same inquiry as with printing or photocopying: whether the material is copyrighted, subject to a license, limited as to number of copies, and does an exception like Fair Use apply.

The copyright and trademark lawyers at Lubin Austermuehle have over thirty-years of experience defending and prosecuting intellectual property claims for large and mid-size corporations and businesses. We are knowledgeable regarding the changes and complexities of copyright and trademark law. We are committed to fighting for our clients' property rights or defending them against baseless infringement claims at both the trial and appellate court levels. We have successfully defended large corporations in multi-million-dollar copyright or trademark infringement suits and regularly prosecute complex copyright infringement cases for computer software having achieved large six and seven figure settlements for our clients. Conveniently located in Chicago and Elmhurst, Illinois, we have successfully litigated intellectual property, trademark and copyright cases for clients all over the Chicago area. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys, you can contact us online or give us a call at 630-333-0333.

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