Back to Insights Back to Insights

Copyright infringement is often the least understood aspect of intellectual property law.

In contrast to trademarks and patents, copyright protection does not need to be applied. It simply comes into existence as soon as a person creates an original piece of work. 

In this article, we will explain what constitutes as copyright infringement plus what you can do if you are the copyright owner and your copyright has been infringed. We also discuss how to avoid infringing someone else’s copyright.

What is considered copyright infringement?

Copyright protects the form of creative works and ideas rather than the ideas themselves. 

Copyright can cover the following:

  • Original work including literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works which, in the case of literary or musical works, are recorded in some way
  • Sound recordings, films, or broadcasts
  • The typed arrangements of published editions

In the UK, copyright law is defined in the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA)

There are two types of copyright infringement - primary and secondary. 

Primary copyright infringements

Section 16 of the CDPA explains that all of the following acts are considered to be primary infringements of copyright law:

  • Copying of copyright work
  • Issuing copies of copyright work publicly
  • Renting or lending the work publicly
  • Performing, showing or playing a copyrighted work publicly
  • Communicating the work publicly
  • Making an adaptation of a copyrighted work or doing any of the acts listed above in relation to an adaptation

In addition, under section 16(2) of the CDPA, authorising another party to undertake any of the above is also considered to be an infringement of copyright.

In order for a copyright infringement to be unlawful, it must relate to the “whole or a substantial part of the work, either directly or indirectly”. 

Secondary copyright infringements

As laid down in Section 22 and 23 of the CDPA, the following acts are considered to be secondary infringements of copyright law:

  • Importing a copyrighted work into the UK, other than for the importer’s private and domestic use 
  • Possessing, exhibiting in public, or distributing a copyrighted work
  • Selling, letting for hire or offering or exposing it for sale or hire a copyrighted work
  • Distributing a copyrighted work, other than in the course of a business, to such an extent as to damage the copyright owner

How do I report a copyright infringement?

If you discover someone has infringed your copyright, you can send them a cease and desist letter. This can be done by either post or email.

If the ‘cease and desist’ letter doesn’t achieve the result you want, your next step is to work with a civil litigation solicitor. They can help you to try and resolve the dispute through alternative dispute resolution (ADR), for example, mediation.


Business dispute resolution advice


If none of these methods resolves the situation, you can go to court to claim damages or apply for an injunction.

How much can I be fined for copyright infringement?

Serious commercial copyright infringements can constitute a criminal offence, and legal actions must be taken. The maximum penalty for these offences is ten years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

The police or trading standards officers can bring a criminal prosecution. However, it is also possible for the copyright holder to get a private prosecution against you.

How can I avoid copyright infringement?

To avoid copyright infringement, you should assume that all copyrighted material someone has created is protected by copyright.

Before using an image, video, or written content for commercial purposes or social media, make sure you have a licence.

Generally speaking, artworks fall out of copyright and enter the public domain in the UK 70 years after the artist's death. 

Get legal assistance from LawBite

Knowing when and how to take appropriate action in the event of copyright infringement is essential in order to bring the matter to a successful conclusion for the party affected. This can be especially complex where the infringement involves other legal jurisdictions.

Our friendly solicitors can advise and represent you if you have been accused of infringing copyright. Most cases can be dealt with quickly and without going to court. 

LawBite has years of experience helping businesses achieve their commercial ambitions and resolve disputes quickly. If you require support with resolving a dispute or you would like to understand more about copyright law, you can book a free 15 minute consultation or call us on 020 3808 8314.


Additional resources

In closing

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice on which you should rely. The article is provided for general information purposes only. Professional legal advice should always be sought before taking any action relating to or relying on the content of this article. Our Platform Terms of Use apply to this article.

Free legal support for businesses

The LawBite Free Essentials Plan acts as your very own legal assistant, ready to provide expertise and guidance on the common legal issues that SMEs and businesses face.

Free Templates
  • X 3 legal document templates
  • Drafted by our expert lawyers
  • New documents added every month
Legal Healthcheck Tools
  • Business-specific surveys
  • Understand how compliant you are
  • Checks in, GDPR, IP, Brexit and more
Resources, Webinars and Articles
  • Access to the latest LawBite events
  • Legal guides for businesses
  • Smarter business law videos