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Can copyright infringement lead to criminal prosecution


Lawdit Solicitors - Expert Author

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Issued on 7th October 2010

The simple answer would be yes as Copyright law in UK allows for criminal prosecution where there is deliberate intent or passing-off in a commercial context. In reality it is not a simple as it may sound.

What a court can order in criminal prosecution:

The judge have the power to imprison and place fines on the convicted party, and infringing goods may also be seized. However even if you succeed in a criminal prosecution case, you may need to bring a separate civil case to recover financial losses caused by the infringement.

The difficulty of proving intent and the higher standard of proof ('beyond reasonable doubt') required for a criminal prosecution means that copyright infringement is almost always dealt with as a civil procedure with the aim of recovering damages.

Civil damages:

Damages in a civil case are tied to the provable losses of the plaintiff plus the costs of the legal action. Civil courts do not act to punish, simply to restore a wrong situation. In theory damages can be increased to take account of flagrancy of abuse but generally the courts will award pretty much the fee that should have been paid for legitimate use.

There is no concept of punitive damages in UK copyright law, unlike the USA where damages can be very substantial for registered works. UK law is clearly only a weak deterrent to infringers as the worst that can happen is that they pay little more than if they had licensed legitimately. Since much of the time their infringements will go undetected, on balance it may be seen as sound business by the infinging party not to obtaining permission.


Although there are criminal prosecution a victim of copyright infringement can bring, it is rare for criminal proceedings to be bought against the infringing party, because for the victim to recover the financial losses he/she would still need to proceed with a civil action.

Rashidul Islam is a Trainee at Lawdit Solicitors and can be contacted by email

About the Author

Lawdit Solicitors offer services and advice for litigation, commercial contracts, Intellectual Property and IT legal agreements. We are experts in commercial law with a heavy emphasis on Intellectual Property, Internet and e-commerce law. Lawdit is a member of the International Trademark Association, the Solicitors' Association of Higher Court Advocates and we are the appointed Solicitors to the largest webdesign association in the world, the United Kingdom Website Designers Association.

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2010-11-02 12:08:27 in Legal Articles

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