The most common risk that artists face when their work involves or incorporates the copyrighted work of others is that the owner of the copyright will sue the artist. But the Copyright Act also allows for criminal prosecution for certain types of willful infringement, with penalties that include fines, destruction of the infringing materials, and even jail time. Removing a notice of copyright or putting your own copyright claim on someone else’s work is illegal if, by doing so, you are trying to confuse others as to who is the actual author of the work. It is also illegal to leak a copy of someone else’s work online if it hasn’t been released for commercial distribution yet.
In general, these criminal copyright infringement penalties are applied to individuals who distribute pirated copies of songs and movies online in large quantities or for personal profit. More discussion of copyright issues is available in the Sampling and Appropriation section.