The enormous popularity of HBO’s Game of Thrones has driven many into a frenzy. Just as the Night King appropriated Daenerys Targaryen’s dead dragon for his own uses, many viewers think that GoT episodes should be freely available for their own uses. The extraordinary value placed on these episodes resulted in hackers cracking into various protected systems to download them and even hold HBO for ransom. Although the GoT mania has died down with the end of the short Seventh season, the mania nonetheless continues somewhat as we enter the doldrums until 2018 and the final season.
The incredible efforts to get the episodes are in spite of the large penalties in play. The basic damages for copyright infringement (unauthorized copying) are between $750 to $30,000 per work. In other words, if you hack into a system and then post a file for others, the damages could be immense, e.g., for 1,000 downloads multiple the above numbers by 1,000 to get a sense of the damage scale possible. If a judge deems the copying willful, i.e., done on purpose and not accidental, the damages can be increased to $150,000 per work. There is also the possibility that you will have to pay the content owner’s legal fees, and the owner may be able to seize and destroy whatever copies you have, as well as enjoin or stop you from future such copying.
In addition to the civil liability, infringers, whether small-time or mass infringers, may also be committing a felony or a misdemeanor. A felony charge must involve an infringement of the copyright owner’s reproduction or distribution rights, two of the various copyright rights. Further, a felony conviction carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Even though there has been some leniency in the past for individual pirating, there is still a risk that you will be made an example. The legal fees alone for defending such suits are large, and, as indicated, you may be paying both sets of attorneys.
In relation to the GoT copyright craziness, here is a Consumer Reports article that cites me on the penalties. https://www.consumerreports.org/televisions/the-risk-of-watching-pirated-game-of-thrones-episodes/ I recommend reading their other articles.
If you are accused of copyright infringement, consult an attorney to assess your situation. If you are small fry, you may not be worth the legal effort. However, if you go after very valuable content, such as GoT, and/or indulge in massive file sharing, you are more of a target and the liability can be staggering. As a computer scientist, I understand the thrill of hacking. However, as an IP attorney helping people, whether innocent or guilty, out of the problems due to their pirating activities, all I can say is that some content owners are meaner than Cersei Lannister in protecting what is theirs.