When Is It Legal to Shoot Someone in Texas?

Posted by admin on July 14th, 2016 under gun laws in Texas  •  No Comments

Many Texans carry guns to protect themselves and ensure their family and friends’ safety. Still, knowing when it’s legal to use deadly force can be confusing. It’s vital to know when it’s legal to shoot someone you think is threatening your family.

What Is the Castle Doctrine?

The castle doctrine is the name given to so-called “hold your ground” laws, which have been passed in states all over the US (starting with Florida in 2005). The Castle Doctrine states that citizens may “stand their ground,” or use deadly force, if they think doing so will protect them from bodily harm. Texas law states that you have no duty to retreat if you feel your safety is being threatened. The places where you may exercise your right to stand your ground, though, vary from state to state.

The Castle Doctrine gets its name from the philosophy that everyone is the King or Queen in his or her own home. In other words, you shouldn’t have to flee your property because of an intruder. The Texas Penal Code designates certain areas under the protection of the Castle Doctrine: your home, vehicle, and workplace.

In your home, Texas law assumes that you’re justified in using force to defend yourself against intruders. You get immunity under this presumption given a certain set of circumstances:

  • An intruder entered unlawfully and with force
  • An individual removes or attempts to remove you from your castle with force

In Texas, a “castle” defines three places: an “occupied habitation,” “occupied vehicle,” and place of employment.

The term “occupied habitation” is perhaps the most important in the Castle Doctrine. According to Texas law, your occupied habitation is limited. The Texas Penal Code defines habitation as:

“…a structure or vehicle adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons; and includes each separately secured or occupied portion of the structure or vehicle; and each structure appurtenant to or connected with the structure or vehicle.”

In other words, this limits the places where you can use deadly force—a sticking point for many who seek to use the Castle Doctrine to protect their families.

Where’s the Confusion?

News headlines all over the Lone Star State point to a lack of consensus about the Castle Doctrine. A woman in Houston shot a man last year whom she thought was attempting to enter her house by force—it turns out it was just her neighbor, a firefighter who had taken a cab home from a bar. In Austin, a man shot a person who had run away from a group home because he feared for his family’s safety.

According to Representative Garnet Coleman D-Houston, cases like these illustrate how the Castle Doctrine goes too far. He’s committed to restricting the law to reduce the number of gun-related injuries. He says current legislation allows citizens to take the law into their own hands.

It’s important to realize that you can’t use force on others for a simple act of trespassing. To shoot in Texas, you must fear for your safety when someone is breaking in or attempting to break in to your home, occupied vehicle, or workplace.

Your “Stand Your Ground” Lawyer in Houston

Legal presumptions for using deadly force in Texas are incredibly strong. If you’ve used deadly force on an intruder in Texas, the law is in your favor. Still, you’ll need an advocate in the courtroom to protect your rights. The Law Office of David Breston is committed to protecting your right to stand your ground. To learn more about our defense services, contact us today.


Open Carry Laws in Texas

Posted by admin on July 14th, 2016 under Uncategorized  •  No Comments

In early 2016, state legislators approved an open carry law in Texas. In June, Governor Greg Abbott signed it into law. There’s been much confusion about what this means for citizens, so we’re breaking down what you need to know about the new statute.

What Is the Open Carry Law?

Texans can now carry their weapons on a shoulder or hip holster. In the past, you needed to conceal your weapon and obtain a concealed carry permit.

To open carry in Texas, you must be at least 21, have a clean psychological and criminal record, complete classroom training, and pass a shooting test. You must also have a concealed carry license. An estimated 925,000 Texans have a concealed carry license and may choose to open carry. That’s around 3% of the population.

Can I Take My Gun Wherever I Want?

There’s a common misconception that this new law essentially makes Texas the Wild West. Gun-free zones are still gun-free zones, so you can’t take your weapon near schools or other designated places. Businesses are still free to make their stores gun-free, but they have to post signs saying so. Dallas and Fort Worth ban guns at the City Council and at local sporting events. Check your local municipal code to see if guns are banned in other public places.

What Makes the Law Controversial?

Opponents of the law think that seeing someone carry a gun on their holster will be emotionally upsetting for some people. They also argue that it may make law enforcement harder, as police may have a tougher time spotting criminals.

An advocacy group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, stated that 66% of Texans and 75% of police chiefs in Texas were opposed to the measure, but the state legislation passed it anyway. They say that it goes against public opinion in Texas

Supporters of the measure maintain that this is an overreaction, and that Texas is late to the game. It becomes the 45th state to allow open carry. The Lt. Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, told NBC’s Meet the Press that opposition to the bill was merely anti-gun “propaganda.”

What Do Businesses Think of the Measure?

Businesses are free to ban open carry, and several have taken advantage of that freedom—Whole Foods, HEB, Whataburger, and others have made their businesses gun-free. Others, like Kroger and Home Depot, allow holstered weapons.

Some restaurants are even offering discounts to those who open carry. Websites are compiling lists of area businesses and their plans to opt-out or embrace the new law.

How Is the Government Preparing?

Schools, police departments, and cities are training officers and employees about the new law. School districts, like Dallas, are placing reminders on their websites that they remain gun-free zones. It’s illegal for anyone to bring a gun onto school property, even if they have a concealed carry license. This includes all school-related events, like games and field trips.

Guns must still be concealed on college campuses, which also have the option of opting out of concealed carry on campus. Several private colleges have already done so.

Your Open-Carry Attorney in Houston, TX

Carrying a gun without a license or open carrying where guns aren’t permitted can carry stiff penalties. At the Law Office of David Breston, we believe that a simple lapse in judgment shouldn’t have a lasting effect on your life. We’re here to minimize the effect that a mistake has on your well-being. Let us be your advocate in and out of the courtroom. For more information and to take advantage of our criminal defense services, contact us today.


Is It Hard to Immigrate to the US?

Posted by admin on October 14th, 2015 under Immigration  •  No Comments

Breaking the law to get into the US is never recommended, but immigrants from all walks of life will tell you that getting into the country legally is an expensive and time consuming ordeal. And the initial process does not earn you citizenship.

If anything, getting through immigration legally is much like the game of Monopoly. At any point, you might receive a rejection notice that is the equivalent of saying, “Do not pass go, do not collect $200.” From there, you might have to begin the entire process all over again. You cannot go from being a citizen of another country to becoming a citizen of the US overnight. In fact, the process may take as long as a year or more.

I Have Decided I Want to Move to the US. Now What?

Now that you have made the decision, you will need to determine your eligibility and address any concerns that may prevent you from coming to the country legally. You may decide to apply for a visa and stay in the country from a few months to as many as six years before making the transition, or you can apply for a green card (permanent resident status) while living anywhere.

You can come to the US legally if a family member (including a new spouse) sponsors you, an employer sponsors you, or you are seeking asylum as a refugee. The next step is submitting the relevant applications and paperwork, which could take as many as six months to process. An attorney who specializes in immigration can help you submit the appropriate information and, sometimes, expedite the overall process.

Once your application has been approved, you will need to have a medical exam. You will be asked to do this before your interview. This process may take several weeks to complete with all the attendant paperwork. Then, you will need to go to an interview at the embassy in your home country or in the US. If all goes well, you will be given your approval at the end of the interview. When you enter the US, you will have your green card and permanent resident status.

Overall, How Long Can This Process Take? 

If there are any clerical errors, lost information, or other obstacles, the overall process can take as long as a year. Without legal assistance, the time frame may be longer than normal. The immigration process is complicated and somewhat clunky.

Am I a Citizen After I Undergo This Process?

No, you will not be a citizen until you apply for citizenship here. The green card process only provides you with the status of a legal immigrant. After five years of living in the US without any trouble, you will be eligible to apply for citizenship. If you are married to a citizen, the time frame is shortened to three years. Unless you apply for citizenship, you will not be able to vote, obtain social security or the attendant benefits, or hold a passport.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Remember, this is just the process of becoming a legal immigrant. You will also need to think about finding a home, moving your belongings, and finding employment. There may be a period of several months when you need to handle affairs at home and in America before you complete the entire process.

Becoming a legal immigrant can be difficult, but it does not have to be. If you are interested in coming to the US legally, the Law Office of David A. Breston can help. Contact us today to learn more about immigrating to the US.


What Happens After Police Issue a Warrant?

Posted by admin on October 9th, 2015 under warrants  •  No Comments

Once a police department has sufficient evidence (probable cause) that a suspect is the most likely candidate for a crime, it will approach a judge to issue an arrest warrant. A warrant for your arrest means a law enforcement officer has the right to take you into custody wherever you are. You could be at work, the doctor’s office, or somewhere else. You do not have to be engaged in illegal activity for an officer to arrest you if he or she has a warrant.

Some people may have no idea a warrant is out for their arrest. The court may not call you to notify you of the warrant, but you can go online to find out if you may have an outstanding warrant. You can also contact the court clerk, who can provide that information.

Types of Warrants

Depending on the severity of the crime, a law enforcement unit may or may not actively pursue you. A bench warrant, for instance, is typically issued for minor crimes such as missing a court date for a traffic violation or for a misdemeanor. Officers will likely not come in pursuit of you for a bench warrant, but they will arrest you if they pull you over or happen to come across you during the normal course of work.

For more serious warrants, a law enforcement officer will deliver the warrant and conduct an arrest as soon as possible. He or she must show you the warrant at the time of arrest. If the warrant is not available, he or she can still arrest you, but must provide the written warrant as quickly as possible. Generally, a law enforcement officer will not enter your personal home uninvited. The officer will knock and identify him or herself. After doing so, the officer is free to use force to enter the premises if you do not answer.

If you learn an arrest warrant or a bench warrant is out for you, you can turn yourself in. You will always be booked after a warrant has been issued, but for minor infractions like missing a court date, you will likely be released soon after.

Contacting an Attorney

If you find out that a warrant has been issued for your arrest, you may want to contact an attorney who specializes in what you have been charged with to help you determine the best approach. You will still have to turn yourself in and be arrested, but with an attorney by your side, you may feel more confident dealing with the process.

Your attorney can represent you in subsequent hearings and meet with you after you have been arrested. You always have a right to an attorney, and consulting with a professional is always advisable. The court system is complex, and there may be issues with your arrest or the evidence that law enforcement has gathered against you. Knowing a warrant is out for your arrest can be frightening. You may feel like you are being hunted, but trying to hide from or ignore the warrant is the worst thing you can do. Whether you are arrested for traffic violations or for a more serious crime, waiting to turn yourself in may only make matters worse.

At the Law Office of David A. Breston, we specialize in criminal law in Texas. If you discover a warrant has been issued for your arrest or you have been arrested on criminal charges, reach out to our office. We will start working on your case as soon as you contact us, and we can help you make informed decisions at every step


What Would Someone Have to Do to Be Deported?

Posted by admin on October 2nd, 2015 under deportation  •  No Comments

Deportation is one of the main fears immigrants have – and rightly so. There are many reasons an individual might be forced out of the US. Criminal activity and misrepresented paperwork are just two that could lead to deportation proceedings. Here are some other reasons why you might be deported:

  • You are here illegally. If the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) finds out you are living here illegally, it has the right to deport you. This can be the result of failing to complete the application process or a consequence of certain types of fraud. The organization also has the right to deport anyone who is not a US citizen, provided it has a sufficient reason for doing so.
  • If you are convicted on a charge of drug trafficking, human trafficking, violent crimes, prostitution, or other serious offenses, you could be deported. Depending on the circumstances, one misdemeanor may not warrant deportation. Numerous and more serious crimes, however, could mean you will have to leave this country for a certain period of time or even permanently.
  • Even if you are not a convicted felon or repeat offender, you can be deported for small citations and misdemeanors if you have a history of bad behavior. In some cases, it may be better to go before an immigration court than criminal court, since an immigration court will allow you to provide character witnesses to prove your overall good behavior.
  • Marriage fraud. Many people wrongfully believe they can use marriage as a means of entry into the US. If ICE finds out that you misled them (e.g., you get a divorce soon after coming here or there are documents that prove fraud), it has the right to deport you.
  • Other types of fraud. If your paperwork is faulty in some way, and the error was intentional, you may be accused of fraudulent activity. This may also be grounds for deportation, depending on the circumstances.
  • Green card or visa expiration. As a legal immigrant or visitor, it is your responsibility to renew your status in this country. If you fail to do so, you are no longer here legally – and the government is free to deport you.
  • You ignore the terms of your status. Some legal immigrants are allowed to stay providing they follow a certain set of conditions. If there are conditions to your status, you must follow them. Failing to do so could lead to deportation.
  • You moved and did not tell the government. Although this rarely happens, if you move and do not notify US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the government reserves the right to deport you. You have 10 days to report your change of address, and you can use an online form to do so.
  • You try to receive welfare or other forms of public assistance. When you apply to come to the US legally, it is with the understanding that your sponsor will support you. The US government has no obligation to provide for you. If you use public assistance programs, that is an indication that you should not have been granted a green card, and you could be deported.

There are other reasons you may be deported, but these are some of the major ones. The good news is that being threatened with deportation does not always mean you will actually be forced to leave the country. You have the right to appeal the decision, but you may need the help of a knowledgeable immigration attorney. If you or someone you know is being threatened with deportation, reach out to the Law Office of David A. Breston.


What Is a Green Card? How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card?

Posted by admin on September 28th, 2015 under Immigration  •  No Comments

A green card holder is a permanent resident of the United States, but not a citizen. Green card status means someone has been allowed to come into the country, work, and live permanently. Physically, it is a plastic card that tells officials an individual is living and working in the country legally. The card is not actually green, although it once was. The application process is not as rigorous as filing for citizenship, and many immigrants use green cards as an intermediate step as they move from becoming a visitor in the country to becoming a citizen. Here are some of the most common questions you might have about green cards and their answers:

How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card? 

As with most government affairs, the set time to obtain a green card may vary. Processing time and other factors may expedite or slow down the overall process. However, determining your eligibility prior to applying and/or speaking with an attorney may speed up the process. Following the instructions on the forms precisely is very important and may effect whether your application is approved or rejected.

What Are the Eligibility Requirements? 

You cannot get a green card on a whim because you are tired of your home country. Instead, you have to be sponsored by family, sponsored by an employer, be an investor with the required amount of capital, be seeking asylum as a refugee, or win a diversity lottery that is typically held annually in the US.

Where Do I Go to Obtain and File the Forms? 

All of the forms you need to fill out can be downloaded through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website. You will need to file Form I-485 to apply for permanent residency, but depending on your eligibility requirements, you may also need to file other forms concurrently. The forms are detailed, and you will need to carefully fill out each section. An attorney may also be helpful during this part of the process to ensure you have filled out every part of the forms required by the agency.

Will It Cost Money? 

Unfortunately, filing for a green card is not always cheap. Filing your application will cost $420. In addition to the initial cost of filing, you will also have other fees that may be associated with your immigration and affidavit of support. Other costs you may want to budget include translation services, medical exams, original document replacements, legal fees, and travel expenses. Some supplemental forms may cost as much as $1,000 to file. Consider budgeting the cost of applying for a green card before filing the initial application to expedite the process.

I Already Have a Green Card. Can I Become a Citizen? 

If you have held your green card actively for five years, or you have been married to a citizen for three years, you may apply for citizenship in the US.

If you have been denied a green card, you can appeal the decision under certain circumstances. To ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible, we highly recommend talking to an outside professional who has experience with the immigration process. The forms and the process can be complex and difficult to understand.

You may have many more questions than the few listed in this article. If you are interested in getting your green card, particularly during this time of national debate regarding immigration, reach out to our team at the Law Office of David A. Breston. We can help you answer further questions regarding your status and move forward with your application or appeals process.


What Happens if I Am Charged With Illegal Reentry After Being Deported?

Posted by admin on September 15th, 2015 under deportation, Deportation defense, Immigration  •  No Comments

Getting caught for a crime in America can be frightening, particularly if you are not familiar with the state and federal laws that will decide your fate. If you have been deported, denied admission to the country, or forcibly removed for any reason and you attempt to reenter the US without proper authorization, you could face fines and imprisonment.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding your previous deportation and detainment after reentry, you may face a number of consequences. In some cases, you may be removed once again. In other cases, fines and two years in prison are the minimum consequences for illegal reentry. If you have been charged with three or more drug misdemeanors, a felony, or crimes against other people, you could spend up to 10 years in prison. After an aggravated felony, if you reenter the country, you could spend 20 years in prison.

What if My Previous Order for Removal Is Reinstated?

Going through removal proceedings may be one of the best outcomes you could face after an illegal reentry. Through the process of the removal proceedings, you may qualify for relief efforts and discover a way to stay in the country legally. The circumstances of your case will largely affect the opportunities that may be available to you at this time.

Do I Have a Right to an Attorney if I Am Charged With Illegal Re-entry?

Even if you are not an American citizen, you have a right to an attorney under our laws. Hiring a private defense attorney may be the best way for you to fight the charges against you and have them dropped or reduced. Immigration cases are highly complex, particularly with the rate of change in legislation. You may have legal remedies available that you are not aware of.

We never recommend trying to fight an illegal reentry case on your own. As a private immigration and deportation defense firm, our team can help you understand your rights as an illegal immigrant in this country and develop a defense strategy that makes sense for your case.

Can I Dispute a Notice for the Reinstatement of an Order for Removal?

If there are factors that have not been considered in your case, you can dispute the findings of the notice. Doing so may improve your chances of proving your entry into the US was lawful, and help you remain in the US without removal. In some cases, extenuating factors may inform the decision to allow you to remain in the US. An immigration officer may not be able to reinstate an order for removal if you are seeking asylum from a dangerous situation, if you have applied for an adjustment of status as a Haitian refugee or a Central American refugee, or if you are eligible for a green card.

Can My Case Be Reopened After I Have Been Ordered Out of the Country Again?

If you did not appear in court for your hearing, your case may be eligible for reopening. Requesting that the case be reopened will give you an opportunity to present your case to the court and explain your situation. You may also be able to seek additional aid to improve your chances of being allowed to stay by doing so.

Finding an Attorney

Dealing with the legal system in America can be scary for citizens. For immigrants fleeing from a bad situation or those who have been mistakenly targeted by an immigration task force, the process can be arduous and overwhelming. If you have been charged with illegal reentry after being deported from the US, you may want to seek the guidance of an experienced legal defense attorney. Reach out to the Law Offices of David A. Breston for more information.


The 10 Most Absurd Laws in Texas

Posted by admin on September 1st, 2015 under Crimes in Houston, Criminal defense in Texas  •  No Comments

Every state has quirky laws they cannot seem to shake. Most of them are not enforced anymore, but some unbelievable ones are still in effect. There are so many serious laws we must be wary of every day that it is a breath of fresh air to think about some of the ridiculous ones lawmakers in the state of Texas once thought were a good idea. Maybe you have encountered one of these laws in your lifetime, or knew about it before. Whether you have seen some of them or not, we hope you enjoy these absurd laws in Texas:

  1. You cannot sell your eyeballs in Texas. Some hair or blood is okay, but do not even think about selling your eyeball! We are not really sure why you would want to, but maybe this law has prevented some gnarly eyeball thieves from holding people hostage for their perfect set of blue eyes! Trying to sell eyeballs is considered a Class A misdemeanor, just in case you were wondering.
  1. The Encyclopedia Britannica has no place in our great state. The well-known fact book is banned in the state because it contains a passage on making homemade beer. The people responsible for this law would probably roll over in their graves if they knew beer-making kits were regularly available on the market today. Now that most people use the internet to look up information, it may not matter too much that the traditional encyclopedia is not allowed in Texas.
  1. Do not try to milk another person’s cow. A person’s cow is a very personal thing. Although fresh milk may be the best thing since organic hit the market, we would have to legally discourage you from trying to steal it from your neighbor’s cow, Betsy.
  1. Doozy alert! If two trains meet at a railroad crossing, both must come to a stop, and neither one can go until the other one has left. Does that mean the trains will be in a stalemate forever more? This is a riddle we think even the best lawmakers of today would have trouble interpreting.
  1. Criminal notice. You must now give your victims a 24 hour notice before conducting a crime. It is so sweet that they think criminals are going to be polite enough to warn people of their impending misconduct. The law does specify that verbal or written notice is adequate for legal purposes.
  1. It is illegal to possess pliers in the state. Nobody can possess a pair of pliers in Texas. What are the ranch hands, electricians, and DIYers supposed to do?
  1. Chugging a beer standing up could get you in trouble. It is illegal to take more than 3 sips at a time while standing. Chug wine or liquor all you want, but large quantities of beer should be consumed while sitting.
  1. Hide the personal toys. Possessing adult toys could get you in trouble under this law. Owning six or more “obscene devices” is even considered a felony.
  1. Do not shoot buffalo from the second story of the Hyatt. It is illegal to shoot a buffalo from the second story of any hotel in Texas, so leave the buffalo hunting gear at home. We know there are a lot of buffalo in downtown Houston, but you will need to refrain.

Houston law. You cannot buy beer after midnight on a Sunday, but you can buy beer on Monday. This law may be more confusing than it is wrong. If they are referring to Saturday/Sunday midnight, it makes sense, but not if it is a Sunday/Monday thing.


Is it Illegal to Jailbreak or Unlock Your Cell Phone?

Posted by admin on March 6th, 2015 under Uncategorized  •  No Comments

Rooting and jailbreaking are the practices of removing certain restrictions on operating systems to serve the owner’s purposes. Hacking any Apple products’ DRM is collectively called jailbreaking, and rooting refers to bypassing Android DRM. Nearly all manufacturers of electronic devices from tablets to smart phones have protections called Digital Rights Management (DRM) software.

DRM serves two purposes. The first is for software security. Those who use Amazon’s one-click purchasing option freely enjoy the protections provided by DRM to secure their account data. The second purpose is to provide software limitation to protect the software and hardware manufacturers. By hacking the DRM for personal purposes, you are committing a crime.

How the Hacks Work

Rooting and jailbreaking are usually accomplished by installing malicious software onto the phone that bypasses certain restrictions. For instance, jailbreaking usually entails installing a series of software called kernel patches. Kernels are strings of code that supervise the operating system. By circumventing kernels, you can install your own code that helps run the device.

Unlocking is a term sometimes used interchangeably with jailbreaking, but it means something different. Unlocking refers specifically to the process of allowing your phone to work with any carrier. In other words, unlocked phones can change service from AT&T or Verizon to another carrier without company intervention.

Rooting is the process of allowing yourself root-level access on a device. By rooting a product, you are essentially giving yourself elevated administrative rights that are typically impermissible.

There are other hacks that go hand-in-hand with these processes. Users can change the icon dock to install their own UIs or illegal emulation software for video games and movies. Cydia is a hack for Apple products that is incredibly popular on jailbroken devices. It has its own app store with free and paid apps alike. Cydia is technically legal, but some of the apps that work on the platform are not.

Hacks put users at danger, though users are often unaware of the risk. Many malware and software virus programmers target users who have installed programs like Cydia, since the loss of restrictions also compromises device security. A study by the UCSB looked at over 1,400 free programs for hacked devices. Of them, 21% of these apps made the devices’ IDs available and 4% gave away user locations with GPS. Some of the apps from Cydia even leaked photos, browsing histories, and private information.

Legal Implications of Hacked Software

Jailbreaking is not currently illegal on most devices, but using illegal applications and software through jailbreaking certainly is. This procedure is legal only because the DMCA does not cover the process specifically. However, jailbreaking is currently illegal on the iPad.

The reason the iPad is off-limits is because of the ambiguous terminology of the word “tablet.” A portable video game console (like the GameBoy) could be referred to as a tablet as easily as an e-reader or Kindle. By allowing jailbreaking on those devices, protections for gaming consoles could potentially erode.

Unlawful unlocking can have consequences. Service carriers are allowed to unlock your device, but an unapproved third party or self-service is considered unlawful. Fines for unlocking a device without consent can be steep. Civil suits filed against an unlocked phone can result in a fine of up to $2,500. The practice can be tried as a criminal case if the phone owner stands to make a profit by unlocking the device. This “commercial advantage” can net the offender five years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines.

Currently, Apple and other developers are lobbying to make jailbreaking and rooting illegal. As of right now the best they can do is void your warranty in very specific instances.


What Are The Penalties of Digital Piracy and Illegal Downloads in Texas?

Posted by admin on March 6th, 2015 under Digital Piracy, Illegal Downloading, Piracy Law  •  No Comments

The internet has rightly been compared to the settling of the American West. It is the final frontier. P2P and sharing software have made file sharing a simple process that anyone can learn in under a few minutes. New laws have begun cracking down on this behavior. Everyone remembers when Napster was shut down in 2001, but since then copyright laws have become more severe.

Many of the laws regarding illegal downloading and digital piracy exist at the federal level. Additional local and state laws exist as well. For instance, Texas Tech University has specific guidelines (30.22.4 and 30.22.5) for what constitutes fair use with music and video sharing. This is because university students often find academic reasons to share materials within a classroom.

Important Digital Piracy Laws

The most common digital piracy laws provide the majority of the protections needed by owners of creative content. While this is a brief overview of the laws, if you are unsure whether or not your actions constitute proper content use, contact an attorney who has experience in digital piracy.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 is one of the most well-known laws. This law makes it illegal to work around copyright protections, even if the copy is made for personal use. Preserving work that is already owned by changing the format of the property may offer the user some protections. For instance, making a DVD of some VHS tapes may be allowed. However, hacking a video game to use offline to avoid ownership confirmation is definitely not.

Some of the most important aspects of the DCMA are:

  • • Cracking copyright protections, circumventing encryptions, breaking into protected product code, and “stress testing” security systems, are all illegal.
  • • Manufacturing or distributing code-cracking software is unlawful.
  • • In Texas, some nonprofits, state archives, and education groups have some specific exemptions. However, commercial sales of content are still strictly prohibited.
  • • Making copies of data, product updates, software, and information are all against federal and state laws.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is an international treaty between the United States and a host of other countries including Japan, the UK, the United Arab Emirates, and others. The point of this law is to protect digital piracy when a creative work may cross borders to another country. This treaty does not just target digital content, but also pharmaceuticals, currency, and other trade goods.

The No Electronic Theft law is a federal mandate that elevates civil copyright violations to a federal crime. Making a copy of a CD for a friend can result in charges of up to a maximum $250,000 in fines.

While search and seizure laws protect American citizens in a broad sense, lesser restrictions are placed on border officers conducting border searches. Laptop and electronic devices can be searched by border officers if they have reasonable suspicion, even without probable cause. By re-entering the US, you may find your personal digital privacy violated at what may seem like a whim.

Signed in 2008, the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act imposes even stricter penalties for copyright infringement. This law essentially gives law enforcement the right to take personal property of those suspected of copyright infringement. Seized property is sometimes not returned after a search, so those who keep extensive personal and work information on their personal computers should be careful.

Finally, those who put their names on copied or plagiarized work are committing fraud. In some cases, putting your name on a software crack or even an artist’s album is considered fraud, even if the artist’s name is clearly attached to the shared product. Know your protections and limitations before making copies.