Criminal liability for copyright infringement

Copyright infringement is a civil wrong and where infringement occurs a claim may be brought by the copyright owner or a person who has an exclusive licence to the work through the civil courts. In certain circumstances copyright infringement can amount to a criminal offence as well.

Criminal offences relating to copyright infringement

Where a person, without the licence of the copyright owner, carries out one of the following acts they commit a criminal offence:

  • makes for sale or hire an article which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe is an infringing copy of a copyright work;

  • imports into the United Kingdom otherwise than for his private and domestic use an article which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe is an infringing copy of a copyright work;

  • possesses in the course of a business an article which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe is an infringing copy of a copyright work with a view to committing any act infringing the copyright;

  • in the course of a business sells or lets for hire or offers or exposes for sale or hire or exhibits in public or distributes an article which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe is an infringing copy of a copyright work;

  • distributes otherwise than in the course of a business an article which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe is an infringing copy of a copyright work to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright (informally swapping computer games via an enthusiast’s network has been held to amount to such an offence);

  • makes an article specifically designed or adapted for making copies of a particular copyright work and which he knows or has reason to believe that it is to be used to make infringing copies for sale or hire or for use in the course of a business;

  • possesses an article specifically designed or adapted for making copies of a particular copyright work and which he knows or has reason to believe that it is to be used to make infringing copies for sale or hire or for use in the course of a business;

  • communicates copyright work to the public in the course of a business, or otherwise than in the course of a business to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the copyright owner where he knows or has reason to believe that, by doing so, he is infringing copyright in that work;

  • “causes” the public performance of a literary, dramatic or musical work where he knows or has reason to believe that copyright would be infringed (a person “causes” such a performance only if they perform it themselves or their servants or agents perform it – the owner of premises will not be liable by letting out the premises in which the performance is held);

  • “causes” the playing or showing in public of a sound recording or film where he knows or has reason to believe that copyright would be infringed (simply delivering a film to an exhibitor has held to be insufficient).

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For more information on:

  • Search warrants
  • Penalties and enforcement
  • The relationship between criminal and civil proceedings