Could Illegal Downloads Expose You to Copyright Infringement Liability?

Enrico Schaefer - December 17, 2016 - Copyright Law, Music Copyright Infringement


Hello listeners! My name is Mallory Donick and I am a Copyright Attorney with Traverse Legal.  Today we are going to talk briefly about illegal downloads and the potential repercussions those downloads can have under copyright law.

It is safe to assume that most people have illegally downloaded something in their lifetime, typically music and movies.  We live in an increasingly connected world where file sharing is the norm, which makes access to free digital media easier than ever.  Because illegal downloading is so prevalent, many are led to believe that they won’t be the ones to get caught.  But, what happens if you do get caught?

As a quick refresher, copyright law protects original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium, which includes digital copies of music and movies.  Copyright infringement occurs when someone reproduces, distributes, displays, or performs protected works without [the] author’s permission.  Thus, by downloading free, illegal digital media, copyright infringement is occurring.

Even if your free downloads are infringing copyright, you may still ask – how will they find me?  Well, the copyright owner can acquire your IP address as being associated with illegal downloads.  Armed with the IP Address, copyright owners file a “John Doe” lawsuit, which means that the Defendant has not yet been named.  Through the lawsuit process, copyright owners can subpoena your Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) to disclose your name and address.  After that, the copyright owner uses your contact information to send a threat letter asserting legal leverage and requesting payment.  In the event that the issue doesn’t get settled, you are potentially exposing yourself to a full-blown copyright infringement lawsuit.  That could mean getting slapped with some seriously excessive fines.

As use of streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, Netflix, and Amazon increases, logically illegal downloading should be decreasing – but statistics show that it’s not.  In fact, it is estimated that illegal file-sharing has grown approximately 44% from 2008 to 2014.  Software such as BitTorrent and YouTube to MP3 remain extremely popular because people like free.  Well, free is only better until it catches up to you.  While you may never get caught, you have to ask yourself – is illegal downloading really worth the risk?

If you have been the subject of a copyright infringement notice due to illegal downloading, Traverse Legal can help navigate your options.  This is Copyright Attorney Mallory Donick signing off until next time.  Take care!

GET IN Touch

We’re here to field your questions and concerns. If you are a company able to pay a reasonable legal fee each month, please contact us today.


This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Enrico Schaefer, who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a practicing Business, IP, and Technology Law litigation attorney.