While artists, fans, lawyers, jurists and policy-makers struggle to define the legal bounds of intellectual property rights, at what point do those accused of infringing overstep so egregiously that their actions constitute a crime, with major penalties either in fines or imprisonment?

That’s a central focus of Criminal Copyright Enforcement Against Filesharing Services,  an article worth a look from Benton Martin and Jeremiah Newhall, two recent law school graduates and now law clerks in the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The piece by Martin (Emory Law School ’10) and Newhall (George Washington University Law School ’11) recently was accepted for publication in the North Carolina Journal of Law and Technology.

The authors examine the history of criminal copyright enforcement, including the shift of focus to filesharing services, beginning with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. They also dissect the challenges in prosecuting filesharing-site operators and the effectiveness on deterrence of future copyright infringement. The authors scrutinize the shutdown of Megaupload and PirateBay, or “copyright wars” as they refer to these events, tackling questions such as: “What pushes a legitimate online file-storing business over the edge to criminal enterprise? How might criminal copyright enforcement differ materially from civil enforcement?”

Besides the instances these writers cite, of course, lawmakers and judges in France and Spain have taken new steps to crackdown on copyright violation with felony-sized financial penalties in the form of big cash fines.