Copyright law, case P 31/07

October 28th, 2009, Tomasz Rychlicki

A person who was acting without the authorization of the rightholder, sold in order to gain material benefits, a copy of a design of single-family house XENIA. The design was owned by the Project Studio Archipelag. The District Prosecutor’s Office qualified his actions as a criminal offense under article 117(1) and article 115(3) of the Polish Act of 4 February 1994 on Authors Rights and Neighbouring Rights – ARNR – (in Polish: ustawa o prawie autorskim i prawach pokrewnych), published in Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No. 24, item 83, consolidated text of 16 May 2006, Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No. 90, item 631, with subsequent amendments.

Art. 115. 1. Any person who usurps the authorship or misleads as to the authorship of all or part of the work or performance of another shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of up to 3 years, restriction of freedom or a fine.
2. Any person who, without mentioning the creator’s name or pseudonym, discloses the work of another either in its original or in a derived form, or a performance, or who publicly distorts a work, a performance, a phonogram or videogram or a broadcast, shall be liable to the same penalty.
3. Any person who, with a view to making a material profit in a manner other than that specified in paragraph 1 or 2, infringes the rights of the author or neighboring rights within the meaning of Articles 16, 17, 18, 19 paragraph 1, art. 191, 86, 94 paragraph 4 or article 97 or without performing his duties as mentioned in article 193 paragraph 2, 20 paragraphs 1-4, 40 paragraph 1 or paragraph 2, shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of up to one year, restriction of freedom or a fine.
(…)
Art. 117. 1. Any person who, without authorization or without respecting the conditions imposed, fixes or reproduces another’s work in its original version or in a derived form, or a performance, a phonogram or videogram or a broadcast, at the same time authorizing the disclosure thereof, shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of up to two years, restriction of freedom or a fine.
2. If the perpetrator of the infringement defined in paragraph 1 has made the infringement into a permanent source of income, or if he organizes or directs the offending activity referred to in paragraph 1, he shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of up to three years.

The Regional Court in Warsaw filed a question of law to the Constitutional Tribunal. The Court asked whether article 115(3) of the ARNR satisfy the requirement of preciseness, because it does not precisely define what actions are penalized by this provision. The Court noted that the construction of the aforementioned provision is deemed by the Polish doctrine of law as defective, because the phrase “in a manner other than (…), infringes the rights” is devoid of characteristic of criminal offenses, which in turn makes it impossible to identify what behaviors shall be punished. This is contrary to a fundamental principle of criminal law – nullum crimen sine lege, which is also included in the article 42(1) of the Constitution. The definition of a crime shall be strictly construed and shall not be extended by analogy.

Article 42
1. Only a person who has committed an act prohibited by a statute in force at the moment of commission thereof, and which is subject to a penalty, shall be held criminally responsible. This principle shall not prevent punishment of any act which, at the moment of its commission, constituted an offence within the meaning of international law
2. Anyone against whom criminal proceedings have been brought shall have the right to defence at all stages of such proceedings. He may, in particular, choose counsel or avail himself – in accordance with principles specified by statute – of counsel appointed by the court.
3. Everyone shall be presumed innocent of a charge until his guilt is determined by the final judgment of a court.

The Court also pointed out that the scope of criminal penalties set by provision of article 115(3) of the ARNR are in fact too broad and unduly limits the rights and freedoms. Furthermore, this provision is particularly generous to authors, performers, producers of phonograms and videograms and broadcasting organizations. Namely, any breach of their rights, creates criminal liability.

The Constitutional Tribunal in a decision of 21 October 2009, case file P 31/07, discontinued the proceedings because of the inadmissibility to issue a judgment. The decisions was based on the fact that the request contained defects in the form.

See also “Polish regulations on copyright” and “Polish case law on copyright“.