I've noticed that, in Australia, books created by authors who've died before 1955 are in the public domain.

For example, all of George Orwell's works are available from the University of Adelaide: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/o/orwell/george/

It mentions on the website that you must check the copyright laws in your country before downloading. However if one was to download it in Australia and transport it to a country where the copyright is in force (say, the UK), would it be illegal?

If this would not be illegal, where is the line drawn between importing something physically like this, and downloading it?

  • 2
    Which website says you must check the copyright laws in your country before downloading? It'd be good to have a source for that, though I'm not sure it affects an answer one way or the other.
    – jimsug
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 20:49
  • 1
    Most websites that distribute copyrighted works illegally would tell you, to produce the appearance of honesty. "We are legal and honest, it's not our fault if people don't check the copyright law of their country and download when they shouldn't".
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 21:29

2 Answers 2


Prompted by this recent similar question, I've revisited this question and deleted my original answer as it was completely off the mark. This is its replacement.

It is illegal, and it turns out to be an international standard in the Berne Convention. Article 16 in full:

(1) Infringing copies of a work shall be liable to seizure in any country of the Union where the work enjoys legal protection.

(2) The provisions of the preceding paragraph shall also apply to reproductions coming from a country where the work is not protected, or has ceased to be protected.

(3) The seizure shall take place in accordance with the legislation of each country.

Your scenario falls squarely within point (2) and the imported George Orwell book is to be treated as an infringing copy within the UK.

The implementing UK legislation for (2) can be found in Section 27(3) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


Copyright law is all about copying.

Downloading creates a copy. Most countries take the point of view that an action "counts" where it takes effect, so the copying is most likely covered by the laws of the country where the copy appears, typically on your computer which is where you are.

So the downloading would be illegal if the item is under copyright in your country where you download it, and you don't have permission of the copyright holder.

On the other hand, if you create a copy on your computer legally while in Australia, and carry that computer somewhere else, you are not making a copy. You might have to be careful not making any other copies. I would suspect that even buying a new computer and transferring everything from the old computer to the new one might be copyright infringement.

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