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Reminder: The Trouble Copyright Infringement Lands You In Ain’t Always Civil

In discussing copyright violation in the Internet Age, particularly with some of my younger friends, I’m often stunned to find that they are unaware that copyright violation can carry with it criminal liability (as opposed to the mere civil liability of up to $150,000 in statutory damages).

Take the case of Xiang Li, an erstwhile web-based software pirate who is now awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and one count of wire fraud.

Granted, criminal copyright prosecutions are relatively rare, and you generally only see criminal charges in instances of large scale, for-profit commercial infringement, but when the authorities set their sights on you, you’re quite likely screwed. As the Xiang Li case demonstrates, federal authorities are willing to go to great lengths to get their man. According to a report in the New York Times:

Mr. Li was arrested in June 2011 in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands during a meeting that had been arranged by undercover agents posing as American businessmen. The agents arranged the meeting under the guise of picking up their purchase of pirated software, design packaging and 20 gigabytes of proprietary data, and to discuss a plan to transmit cracked software over the Internet so they could resell it to small businesses in the United States.

The trouble didn’t stop at Li, either; two of his biggest customers, a NASA electronics engineer named Cosburn Wedderburn, and Dr. Wronald Best, chief scientist at an “unidentified government contractor that provides services to the Unites States military and law enforcement” (as the Times put it), both pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, and are awaiting sentencing.