Chicago Criminal Attorney

While the Internet makes it easier to share information and ideas, it can also be a breeding ground for criminal activity. The federal government takes an active role in investigating and prosecuting different computer crimes, including allegations of software piracy. Software piracy is a type of copyright infringement that applies specifically to computer programs and certain types of media. While some acts of software piracy may be deliberate, it is possible to commit a copyright violation unintentionally. If you’ve been notified that you’re being investigated for software piracy, you need to call an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney right away.

Software Licensing and Software Piracy

Computer software is copyright protected, meaning there is a legal protection in place which grants a particular individual or entity ownership of the program. When a software manufacturer creates a copyrighted program, it’s assigned a specific license number. A software license is a type of legal contract that regulates how a particular program may or may not be used.

When a software program is purchased and installed on any computer for personal or business use, the user must read and accept the licensing agreement before the software can become functional. The licensing agreement may inform the user that the software program cannot be copied or distributed and it may place a specific limit on how many times the software can be installed. When an individual or business makes copies of a software program, installs it more times than allowed by the licensing agreement or uses it for any purpose not allowed by the licensing agreement, these actions constitute software piracy.


File-sharing refers to the sharing of digital audio, video and music files as well as computer software programs and electronic books. There are a number of ways that files can be shared but the most common and most highly scrutinized method involves the use of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, such as Morpheus and the now-defunct Limewire. These types of sites allow users to connect with other users and download files directly from another person’s computer.

Peer-to-peer sites typically involve the use of torrenting programs, which allow for the simultaneously uploading and downloading of large files. While it is not illegal to install a torrenting program on your computer, it is a crime to use the program to transmit copyrighted material to other users or to download copyrighted material that you haven’t paid for.

Penalties for Software Piracy and Copyright Infringement

The penalties for software piracy typically depend on the type of violation involved. The Copyright Act, Title 17 of the U.S. Code spells out the penalties for those who infringe on a copyright owner’s rights.

  • Anyone who makes unauthorized copies of a computer software program or media file, regardless of the reason, may be penalized by a fine of up to $150,000 for each violation.
  • Any individual who unlawfully duplicates a software program or copyrighted material for the express purpose of commercial or financial gain may be subject to a fine of up to $250,000 and a prison term of up to five years for each violation.

According to federal law, you can be held liable for copyright infringement or software piracy, regardless of whether you were aware you were committing a criminal act. A lack of intent cannot be used as a defense in a copyright infringement case, making it vital that you enlist the help of a qualified Federal Criminal Defense Attorney to protect your rights.

Choosing an Experienced Federal Attorney

A number of high-profile cases involving file-sharing have proven that the federal government is serious about prosecuting software piracy cases. While you may not think that you’ve committed a copyright violation, you may find yourself facing prison time if you become the target of a software piracy investigation. When your freedom is on the line, you need an aggressive advocate to work on your behalf.

Chicago criminal lawyer Michael Schmiege specializes in representing individuals who’ve been charged with federal copyright infringement and software piracy. He understands the federal laws governing the use of copyrighted information and he will thoroughly review the facts of your case in order to build the strongest defense possible.

If you’ve been accused of software piracy, call Attorney Michael Schmiege today at (312) 906-7800 to receive a free evaluation of your case.



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