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I have a question about copyright. Let's imagine a situation in which I am messaging with my friends. I need to send to my first friend a picture of someone of celebrity. I need to send to my second friend some funny pictures because he feels blue. I go to Google and find some pictures with copyright, save them on my phone and send them to my friends without any commercial purpose.

Do I commit a crime in this case? Do I break the EU's or US's laws in this case?

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Technically, downloading such pictures and sending them to others is copyright infringement, unless they have been released under a license which permits sharing them with others.

Copyright infringement is not a crime. It is a tort. That means the copyright owner can sue, if and when the owner learns this has happened, and chooses to bring a court action. As that would involve paying a lawyer, and court fees, and other expenses, most owners will not bring such a suit unless they think the damages are likely to be large enough to make it worth their time and trouble, over and above getting their expenses back. Most copyright owners would not bother to sue over personal sharing of pictures posted on the net. However, that is the choice of the owner to make, if they learn of the sharing.

Note that, if instead of attaching a picture to an email, one sends a link, there is no copyright infringement involved, even technically.

While the details of copyright laws differ in different countries, the information above is true for both the US and the EU, and most if not all other countries.

One of the ways in which copyright laws differ between countries is in the exceptions to copyright that are available. In the US there is the somewhat complex concept of "fair use". Being personal and non-commercial use does not automatically make something fair use, although it helps support a finding of fair use. Some EU countries have a specific exception for personal use. I believe that India has such an exception also. Many countries have exceptions for news reporting, use in classroom teaching, parody, and various other cases.

I said above tyht copyright infringement is not a crime. That is not always true. Under 17 USC 506 infringement can be criminal, but only if the infringement is:

  1. willful;
  2. for private financial gain or commercial advantage; and
    3A) of works valued at over $1,000, or
    3B) of a work being prepared for commercial distribution, knowingly preempting such distribution by electronic posting.

I believe that there are similar limits on criminal copyright infringement in the laws of other countries.

Beyond that, the current policy of the US Department of Justice is to prosecute criminal copyright infringement only when it is done on a bulk basis, as a business. In particular, mass reproduction and sale of CDs and DVDs without permission may be prosecuted.

Comments point out that a plaintiff may, in the US, elect to receive statutory damages, instead of actual damages, and in that case need not prove any financial loss. This is true, but the damages may be as low as $750 per work infringed (not per copy) or as low as $200 for "innocent infringers". The amount is set by the court, as it thinks just.

It is also true that a US court may award reasonable attorney fees and costs, under 17 USC 505. But this is wholly in the court's discretion, it is in no way automatic, and I understand is typically not awarded in "minor" cases. In any case a plaintiff cannot count on getting fees and costs, nor on a large statutory damage award.

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  • Thank you for answer! Are rules have any exclusions for personal (non-commercial) use ?
    – ND8801
    Aug 28, 2021 at 15:34
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    @NS0144 That is one of the ways in which copyright laws differ between countries. In the US there is the somewhat complex concept of "fair use". Being personal and non-commercial use does not automatically make something fair use, although it helps support a finding of fair use. Some EU countries have a specific exception for personal use. I believe that India has such an exception also. Aug 28, 2021 at 15:46
  • I think this answer is off base in some important ways. Infringement is, indeed, a criminal offense -- though maybe not in the OP's circumstances. Also, the law provides for statutory damages and fee shifting in copyright cases, so there's pretty strong incentives to bring a case, even when the costs of litigation outweight the actual damages.
    – bdb484
    Aug 28, 2021 at 19:24
  • One distinction in copyright is that the plaintiff can choose to get statutory damages (an amount per breach) rather than proving any actual loss. This can make it worthwhile to sue even when no loss has been suffered.
    – Dale M
    Aug 28, 2021 at 22:44
  • @Dale M true, at last in US law. But, in US law, such damages are whatever the court deems just within very broad limits. They can be a s low as $750, or $200 if the defendant establishes that s/he is an "innocent infringer" In the case of personal sharing of an image already posted to the net, I rather doubt that a court would award huge statutory damages. I don't know what the rule on statutory damages might be in other countries. Aug 29, 2021 at 0:41

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