The Internet provides a wealth of opportunities for the sharing and sale of different products and ideas. Much of the materials, services, and goods you are likely to find online are copyrighted or trademarked. Using others’ ideas, selling or copying their products, and accessing their services without permission or by going through improper channels can end up leaving you in serious hot water. Internet crimes can result in civil lawsuits as well as criminal charges, which have the potential to seriously impact your freedom and financial security, now and in the future.
Intellectual Property Crimes Online
It is easy to share ideas and information you stumble across online, or to incorporate these things into your own online store, website, or social media pages. While you may assume what you are seeing, sharing, or selling is perfectly legitimate, the fact is that you may be infringing on someone else’s trademark or copyright. This has become an increasingly common problem, and federal law enforcement officials are increasingly becoming involved.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aggressively goes after people online who violate state and federal laws by either intentionally or unintentionally robbing people or companies of the ideas, designs, or inventions.
Examples of intellectual property crimes include:
- Claiming others’ products, such as blog posts, pictures, or recipes, as your own
- Selling goods and services without permission of the person who holds the property rights
- Using someone’s trademarked creative works or inventions in your own products, without permission
- Downloading and distributing content or images against specific policies
- Downloading and streaming content without paying for or through illegal, third service providers
Penalties for Online Intellectual Property Crimes
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), prosecutors are likely to consider the following factors in determining both when a case rises to the level of a criminal matter and the types of charges which should be filed:
- Whether the incident involved counterfeiting
- If the incident put the public health or welfare in jeopardy
- The scope of the infringement, including the number of people harmed
- Whether trade secrets were involved
- Whether the infringement occurred as part of an organized effort by a group of people
- The scale of the victim’s loss, including lost wages and damage to their reputation
- Whether the victim took the necessary steps to protect against the loss
In some situations, while a trademark or copyright violation may not rise to a criminal level, there could be a civil lawsuit filed to obtain damages from the guilty party. The burden of proof is far less in civil matters than it is in criminal cases, meaning that without an experienced attorney on your side you stand a greater chance of losing these battles in a courtroom.
We Can Help You Today
The FBI estimates that businesses lose a combined total of billions of dollars each year due to intellectual property violations. If you have been a victim of an Internet crime, contact an experienced intellectual property lawyer to discuss your legal options.