Lesser known crimes: do you own that copyright?

The second in my irregular series of lesser known crimes, like the first, relates to unlawfully claiming ownership of an intellectual property right.

Section 141 of the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 provides:

A person who, for financial gain, makes a claim to enjoy a right under this Part [ie. copyright] which is, and which he or she knows or has reason to believe is, false, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding £100,000, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or both.

The penalties are far more serious that those applicable to the trade mark offence. It was introduced to the legislation as an amendment proposed by the then Labour Senator Brendan Ryan, who proposed a maximum penalty of £10 million. He saw it as a necessary counterbalance to the “draconian powers” afforded to copyright owners in the legislation.

[T]here is nothing to suggest that a person who, maliciously and for monetary gain, abuses those powers would pay a penalty other than through the civil courts – even that is patchy and requires clarification … if such a scale of unprecedented powers is to be granted, there must be a balanced penalty for abuse of those powers.

Section 141 is the type of offence companies like YouTube are talking about when they say in their copyright notice:

Be aware that there may be adverse legal consequences in your country if you make a false or bad faith allegation of copyright infringement by using this process. Don’t make false claims!

However, the process they refer to is their own notice-and-takedown procedure and the adverse legal consequences under section 141 require that the claim is made for financial gain. I expect that section 141 was envisaged as addressing false claims for damages. While I’m not aware of any prosecutions under section 141,  it is conceivable that someone could gain from having someone’s videos removed from YouTube (eg. if the complainant ran a paid site featuring the same video under licence).

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2 Responses to “Lesser known crimes: do you own that copyright?”


  1. 1 TJ 20 August 2010 at 11:00

    Another aspect of the problem is that many bogus copyright claims are made to silence critics and hide embarrassing facts, not to make any direct financial gain. Would a cult be guilty of an offence if it abused copyright to intimidate ISPs to take down internal documents? There’s also a possible difficulty in the wording, as applied to permitted uses. The offense is making a claim to enjoy a right: would it cover the situation where a person wrongfully and knowingly claims that e.g. A fair dealing exception doesn’t apply?

  2. 2 Rossa McMahon 20 August 2010 at 13:32

    Good points. I wondered how remote the financial gain could be.

    In my example, would there be a gain by making the video unavailable on YouTube to drive subscribers to the subscription site and, if so, would the court require it to be quantified? In one of your examples, silencing critics, the act of doing should protect reputation; is that financial gain?

    It does seem a token protection tagged on to the legislation, rather than tackling the perceived draconian elements themselves.


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