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This question arises from the following question: WorkPlace_Refusal

If you are requested by an executive to perform a task that you believe is illegal, the executive assures you that it is legal, and later your actions are found to be illegal, what happens.

examples:

  1. Use this javascript code from otherCompany webpage.
  2. Don't fill out this expense in the report
  3. etc.

In the original workplace question, could the employee be found infringing if he was acting on good faith?

Civil vs criminal?

Does the complexity of the statute have any bearing (e.g. Thou shalt not kill is pretty clear rule)

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There is no good faith defence to copyright infringement

Copyright violation is a “strict liability” offence, if you do it, you’re guilty. Even if you don’t think or even know you’re doing it.

Of course, what you describe is not criminal copyright but your company can be sued and, unless your jurisdiction has laws to prevent suing employees, so can you.

More generally, someone telling you something is legal doesn’t make it so

Obviously. Otherwise I could tell you it was legal to rob banks.

Even government agencies can’t do that (except in court). For example the Australian Tax Office issues rulings (private and public) about what they think the law is. But since they are part of the executive that doesn’t tell you what the law actually is, only the judicial branch can do that. What they do do is promise not to prosecute you if you follow them.

Vicarious liability

Your employer is liable for any torts you commit in the course of your employment.

Under common law, so are you. Some jurisdictions have statutes that shield employees but this is by no means universal.

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