Abby lives in the European Union or United States.

Abby visits Ben in Country X, which has no copyright laws. Ben has a copy of a movie that is protected under the copyright laws of Abby's home country. Abby makes a copy of it and watches it. She then lets her friend Carl, who is also in Country X, make a third copy.

Abby returns home with no copies of the movie.

Is Abby liable for copyright infringment under the laws of her home country?

And does it matter where the original copyright protected content is from ?

  • 2
    Mind rephrasing your question to be more clear?
    – Trish
    Sep 21, 2020 at 15:27
  • Are you asking if EU copyright law follows its citizens wherever they go?
    – bdb484
    Sep 21, 2020 at 15:46
  • Yes exactly and not only EU ... @bdb484
    – Isabel
    Sep 21, 2020 at 17:46
  • 2
    @Isabel I've reworded the question. Let me know if I've failed to capture your intent.
    – bdb484
    Sep 21, 2020 at 20:56
  • 1
    You made it way better Thanks a lot @bdb484
    – Isabel
    Sep 22, 2020 at 6:23

2 Answers 2


While I agree with most of what is said in user6726's answer, as it is currently written, I disagree with the ultimate conclusion to the title question so feel the need to write my own answer.

Copyright law—and law in general—is usually territorial and does not apply to acts committed abroad. Extraterritorial jurisdiction tends to be reserved for serious crimes such as terrorism, trafficking, maritime piracy, and almost exclusively in US law, tax. Therefore, copyright law does not follow Abby to a foreign country, and it does not matter where content originates.


In Morrison v. National Bank of Australia, the Supreme Court provided a strong affirmation of the presumption of territoriality in Part III-A stating:

When a statute gives no clear indication of an extraterritorial application, it has none.

For this principle applied specifically to copyright law, see for example the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case Subafilms Ltd. v. MGM-Pathe Communications Co.:

Because the presumption has not been overcome, we reaffirm that the United States copyright laws do not reach acts of infringement that take place entirely abroad. It is for Congress, and not the courts, to take the initiative in this field.

Do note though that importation (Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Supreme Court), or even being available online (Spanski Enterprises, Inc. v. Telewizja Polska, S.A., D.C. Cir.) can bring the alleged infringement into the territorial reach of US copyright law even if most of the activity is occurs abroad.


With regards to the EU, the best case I can find is Pinckney v. KDG Mediatech AG, C-170/12 which in paragraph 39 states:

First of all, it is true that copyright, like the rights attaching to a national trade mark, is subject to the principle of territoriality. However, copyrights must be automatically protected, in particular by virtue of Directive 2001/29, in all Member States, so that they may be infringed in each one in accordance with the applicable substantive law.

and concludes (emphasis mine):

Article 5(3) of Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters must be interpreted as meaning that, in the event of alleged infringement of copyrights protected by the Member State of the court seised, the latter has jurisdiction to hear an action to establish liability brought by the author of a work against a company established in another Member State and which has, in the latter State, reproduced that work on a material support which is subsequently sold by companies established in a third Member State through an internet site also accessible with the jurisdiction of the court seised. That court has jurisdiction only to determine the damage caused in the Member State within which it is situated.

So in the EU, even though copyright law is harmonized to an extent, copyright is still territorial to each Member State within the EU, though it would have been nice to find a reference that this also applies external to the EU.


Eritrea, Turkmenistan and San Marino are the three countries without copyright laws. A handful of other countries are not party to any copyright treaties, such as Iran, Iraq and the Marshall Islands. There is no law against infringing non-Iranian copyright in Iran, so if you are in Iran and download non-Iranian content, you won't get sued in Iranian courts. This is true whether you are an Iranian citizen or a US citizen. The same holds for Eritrea, except that there it doesn't even matter if the work is Eritrean.

If, being in the US (or Germany), you download US (or German) material from an Iranian pirate website, you will not be sued in Iranian court, but you can be sued in US (or German) court. That is, it doesn't matter where the website is, it matters where you are. If you infringe German copyright in the US, or vice versa, you can be sued. The basic protection that the various copyright treaties provide is that works of member states are given equal protection, thus German copyright law does not just protect German works. If you, being in Germany, infringe my copyright (I'm in the US), I will sue you in German court, which I can do because of various treaties.

The other thing to bear in mind is that copyright protection is stated as a protection of a work, so there is no "exception" whereby only citizens of Germany have to obey German copyright law. A work created in Germany is protected for citizens and non-citizens alike. The difficulty that arises is that if a person isn't in Germany but is in Eritrea, you would have to either sue them in Eritrea (can't do that: no basis in Eritrean law), or have a German judgment enforced in Eritrea (can't do that, no treaty), or lure them to Germany and persuade them to stay (can't kidnap them).

While you cannot be sued in German court for infringing Iranian copyright using an Eritrean piracy server, you can can be sued in Iranian court if you subsequently travel to Iran. If you copy US material while in Iran, you can be sued when you return to US jurisdiction. Again, the basis for the lawsuit is an act of copying, and not copying while in a particular country, or copying from a particular country.

  • 1
    I wonder if EU citizen have problem in their country after downloading and using something when they were in e.g Iraq ( Of course they didn't move it back to EU they just used it and deleted it ) @user6726
    – Isabel
    Sep 21, 2020 at 17:50
  • What country did the content originally come from?
    – user6726
    Sep 21, 2020 at 18:22
  • For example US or EU @user6726
    – Isabel
    Sep 23, 2020 at 7:43
  • The last part of the question is what happens when Abby returns to Germany. Can she be sued or prosecuted for her violation of German copyright law while in Country X? What you write implies that she could, but it would be good to spell it out. Sep 23, 2020 at 13:05

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