Can I Get Jail Time If I Download a Movie Illegally?

 Posted on July 10, 2024 in Computer Crime

Chicago, IL federal internet crime defense lawyerIf you want to download a movie, song, software, or any work made by someone else, you need to do one of two things: You either need to pay for the work, or obtain permission from the owner first. Otherwise, it is a federal internet crime called copyright infringement.

As we will see, copyright infringement can be punished severely, even more than some violent crimes. If you have been accused of copyright infringement, contact an Illinois copyright infringement attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Will I Get Jail Time If I Download a Movie Illegally?

Copyright infringement can either be classified as a civil offense or a criminal offense. If you download a movie at home and privately watch it for your own pleasure, it will likely be considered a civil offense. In that case, you are not likely to receive jail time, but the studio can sue you for damages.

Where it gets tricky is if you download the movie for the purpose of making any money from it – or for any commercial gain whatsoever. In that case, it becomes a criminal offense. Note that the law says "for the purpose of," because you do not actually need to reap any financial gain. The government would only need to prove that you intended to gain a financial or commercial advantage.

Once your movie download is considered a criminal offense, the question becomes whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony.


Suppose you illegally downloaded a movie with a retail value of $1,500 and sold it. You could be charged with criminal copyright infringement, which is a misdemeanor charge that carries a sentence of up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.


Copyright infringement becomes a felony if the following are true:

  • You made and/or distributed 10 copies of at least one copyrighted work.

  • You did it within 180 days.

  • The copyrighted material has a retail value of at least $2,500.

In that case, you could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. If it is not your first copyright infringement offense, you may face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

What Does the Government Have to Prove?

Once you are charged with criminal copyright infringement, the federal government will have to prove the following things to get a conviction:

  • That the work was copyrighted

  • That you violated that copyright

  • That you did so willfully

  • That you did so "for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain"

Contact a Chicago, IL Copyright Infringement Defense Lawyer

Copyright infringement is a crime that is punished more severely than some violent offenses. If you have been accused of copyright infringement, protect yourself by hiring a strong Chicago, IL federal criminal defense attorney. At the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney, we have over two decades of experience defending our clients against criminal convictions, particularly internet crimes. We are available 24/7 to aggressively protect your rights. Call 312-629-0669 to schedule a free consultation with a skilled attorney today.

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