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In 2010, a large-scale burner and distributor of counterfeited music and movies fled the country after pleading guilty to conspiring to infringe copyright laws with a dozen others. Now he's finally been extradited and sentenced. Upon his extradition and return from Morocco, where he spent 9 months in "horrendous" conditions, he was given the maximum sentence of five years as an added punishment for fleeing.
The group of counterfeiters were found to have illegal copied and sold music and movies including Kung Fu Panda, Hancock, Dark Knight, and Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and Usher. The operation was based in Atlanta, where the group would receive blank DVDs and CDs, and would burn the copies, print the packaging, and prepare for resale.
Is Copyright Infringement a Crime?
Although most copyright infringement claims are civil in nature, criminal charges can be filed as well. The typical illegal download and unintentional sharing of copyrighted materials is generally only going to result in civil charges, if even, and a fine and money damages, which can be substantial. These cases are asserted by the copyright holders.
However, depending on how the violation occurred, criminal charges are more likely than civil charges. This is certainly the case for the wayward counterfeiter mentioned above, where the defendant engaged in a criminal conspiracy and profited from the sale of the copyrighted media. Criminal charges are filed by government prosecutors, and may include financial restitution (money damages) along with jail or probation, if a person is found guilty.
Conspiracy Is a Serious Crime
Whether or not a conspiracy is successful, a person who is engaged in the conspiracy can be arrested and charged with the crime of conspiracy. Essentially, the crime of conspiracy occurs when two or more individuals agree to commit a criminal act, or a series of criminal acts. While obviously if the conspiracy is successful, the charges and sentence will be more severe, but even barring success, if convicted, a person can be sentenced to time in jail.
Counterfeiting Is Actually a Different Crime
Under common language usage, the above actions qualify as counterfeiting. However, under federal law, counterfeiting generally only applies to making, or altering, official government documentation, such as a driver's license, currency, stamps, and legal documentation, such as securities, deeds, and contracts.