I recently learned that Switzerland decriminalized downloading most/some copyrighted works – for "private use".

But that only seems to cover criminal penalties. Does that same act/law, or another, also preclude a civil lawsuit from being brought to court?

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    You've linked directly to Art. 19 which exempts private use from copyright infringement. Why do you say it only seems to only cover criminal penalties, I don't see any distinction being made there in the law?
    – DPenner1
    Jul 26, 2022 at 14:53
  • @DPenner1 Perhaps I'm confused by the U.S. distinction between criminal acts and civil torts. It's also confusing that the 'consumers' of illegal materials are not criminals (or violating any laws) but the 'producers' are, tho I realize that's fairly common. Jul 26, 2022 at 18:35
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    @KennyEvitt Switzerland also has the distinction between criminal law and civil law. Civil law is between individuals or companies and mainly about monetary compensation for breach of a contract, while criminal law is the state vs someone and typically results in fines or jail. However, there are some laws, and the copyright act is one of those, that include both. Copyright infringement may cost you compensation and get you to jail (c.f. Art 62 and 67)
    – PMF
    Jul 26, 2022 at 19:39

1 Answer 1


The question uses the word "decriminalized". That implies that such downloading was previously a criminal act. I don't see anything in the Swiss law that says or implies this. (It is not usual for a copyright law to make ordinary infringing conduct criminal.

Article 9(2) of the Berne Copyright Convention provides that:

(2) It shall be a matter for legislation in the countries of the Union to permit the reproduction of such works in certain special cases, provided that such reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author.

Such laws, which vary significantly from country to country, provide exceptions to copyright. For example, fair use in the US, or fair dealing in the UK. Use of a work that falls within an exception to copyright is not an infringement of copyright.

Article 19 of the Swiss Copyright Law provides that:

Published works may be used for private use.


Persons entitled to make copies of a work for private use may also have them made by third parties subject to paragraph 3

This is part of Chapter 5 Exceptions to Copyright. Chapter 5 includes articles 19 through 28. These define various acts which "may be" done under specified conditions, and which are not then infringements of copyright. This means that neither civil suits nor criminal prosecutions may be brought against anyone for doing such acts under the specified conditions.

It should also be noted that article 19 nowhere mentions "downloading". It permits "making use" of protected works, and in particular "making copies". Downloading is one way of making a copy of a work, but the permission granted by article 19 is not limited to that method of making a copy.

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