Infringing on a copyright and the penalties involved
You will know whether you’re infringing a copyright, because you will know whether you’re creating something original out of your own imagination or whether, in fact, you’re relying on a pre-existing work to create your work. If you’re copying something that’s already in existence, then you’re probably infringing the copyright. You need to know whether that pre-existing work is in copyright. If it’s Shakespeare, you’re probably okay. He’s too old, and there’s no copyright left in Shakespeare. But in general, you know, because you know whether you’re doing it — you’re creating an original work or whether you’re basing yourself and copying the detail from an existing work. As to what are the penalties, well, it depends what you do. The owner of the copyright would be entitled to go to court and get an order from the judge saying you’re not to do that anymore, you’re not to publish copies of your book, which is an infringement of the existing book; you’re not to perform your play which you wrote, which is based on somebody’s book, therefore an infringement of the book. If you’ve already performed the play a lot or sold a large number of copies of the book, the copyright owner may be entitled to get damages, money damages. And copyright is one of the areas where the law allows the successful party in a lawsuit to collect their attorneys fees from the other side. In most cases in the United States, the rule is that the parties — the winning party does not get attorneys fees. They do in copyright cases, so that’s an important thing to bear in mind as well.