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Anti-Piracy Laws in California

Posted by Raoul Severo | Oct 25, 2020 | 0 Comments

Way back in 2004, former state governor and the terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill which makes it illegal to distribute commercial works electronically, specifically audiovisual files or recordings, to at least 10 people without citing the link to its source. This encompasses electronic documents such as:

  • Games;
  • Movies/films;
  • Music;
  • Videos published on the internet; and
  • Stock photos

These are all considered commercial works only if the original owner of these files intends to sell, rent, perform or exhibit under a legal license (i.e., copyright or patent). Furthermore, you are only allowed to distribute these items under the conditions stated below:

  • You are the legal and rightful owner of the document;
  • The document is exclusively distributed among your immediate family members and through a restricted-access network; or
  • You were granted permission or consent by the rightful owner of the document.

Besides these, California has a plethora of codes aimed to preserve and protect intellectual property. These are:

  • California Penal Code PC 653h. This law makes it a crime to knowingly and willfully transfer, duplicate, or distribute any recordings with the intent to sell or use for financial gain without the consent of the owner. For example, you are very savvy with computers and technology and have used it to download songs off the internet. You do this despite the fact that these songs are protected by copyright and you did not ask for the owner's permission. Still, you compile at least 10 songs in a single tape and sell it to your friends.
  • California Penal Code PC 653s. Any individual within the state is strictly prohibited from distributing any pirated recordings of “live shows” for criminal profiteering activities. A person can only be convicted under this code if he/she has the intention to use or sell the document for personal financial gains and that if he/she knows that the sounds or performances have been recorded without the consent of the owner of the live show. These are commonly committed during theatrical plays, concerts, or other public events.
  • California Penal Code PC 653u. While the previous penal code deals with the transportation of pirated live show recordings, PC 653u on the other hand deals with the actual production or manufacturing of pirated live show recordings. It is a crime for anyone to record any live performance for commercial advantage or financial gain without the consent of the owner of the live performance. 
  • California Penal Code PC 653w. This law makes it a crime to sell, rent, advertise or offer a recording or audiovisual work without disclosing the original source or owner of the document. This is often referred to as “failure to disclose the origin of a recording or audiovisual work”. 
  • California Penal Code PC 653z. Arguably the most common and pervasive piracy issue across America, recording a movie inside a motion picture theater is a crime that is prosecutable under PC 653z. A person is not allowed to do so without the written authorization of the owner of the movie theater. 

Penalties for Piracy in California

As demonstrated above, piracy is a crime that comes in many different forms; hence, there are different laws and punishments that correspond to each type of form. 

Under PC 653h, PC 653s, PC 653u, and PC 653w, the penalties are:

  • If the defendant transported less than 1,000 documents, he/she shall face up to 1 year in county jail and/or a fine not exceeding $25,000
  • If the defendant transported more than 1,000 documents, he/she shall face up to 1 year in county jail, or 2, 3, 5 years in state prison, and/or a fine not exceeding $250,000
  • If the defendant transported committed a subsequent offense and the documents transported exceeded 1,000, he/she shall face a state prison sentence and/or a fine not exceeding $100,000

Meanwhile, a conviction under PC 653z shall result in:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail, and
  • A fine not exceeding $2,500

Need Help?

There is no best way to challenge a piracy charge especially when California law is quite aggressive about protecting the rights of property owners. However, a great criminal defense attorney might just turn the tables for you. It is unfortunately too common for people to be victims of piracy. For example, you might have been selling counterfeit products that are actually not genuine. You can use that as a defense if so, but for other cases, it is best to seek advice from a defense lawyer.

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