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Criminal Penalties

U.S. law includes criminal penalties for obscenity, defamation, and copyright infringement.

Though free speech is generally highly protected in the United States, there are certain types of speech that receive limited protection, or even no protection at all.  In some cases, artists and others who engage in these types of unprotected speech may face criminal penalties, including fines and jail time.  While these types of penalties only apply in fairly extreme cases, it’s a good idea to be aware of the limits of free speech and the possible criminal consequences of going over those limits.  The possibility of civil penalties (usually money damages) are discussed in this section.

Criminal Penalties for Obscenity

Obscene content is a category of expression that’s considered “not speech” and, accordingly, can be prohibited by the government.  This section discusses the definition of obscenity and the associated criminal penalties.

Criminal Penalties for Defamation

While most of the penalties associated with defamation are civil penalties (that is, you have to pay money damages to the person you’ve defamed), in some cases an artist might also face criminal penalties.

Criminal Liability for Copyright Infringement

Copyright is another area of law that is largely enforced through civil penalties, but the Copyright Act does include a section that allows for criminal prosecution.  This section discusses the scope of that provision and the ways it has been applied.