Copyright law, case K 15/13

March 27th, 2015, Tomasz Rychlicki

The Polish Constitutional Tribunal in its judgment of 17 February 2015 case file K 15/13 held that the contested by the Ombudsman provisions of Article 115 section 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, is in conformity with Article 42 paragraph 1 of the Polish Constitution.

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.

The Ombudsman argued that the scope of criminal penalties set by provision of article 115(3) of the ARNR are too broad and unduly limits the rights and freedoms. The fundamental principle of criminal law – nullum crimen sine lege, is included in the article 42(1) of the Polish 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 Constitutional Tribunal held that the standard of definiteness of legal regulations, that is also included in the provisions of Article 42, does not preclude a margin of regulatory discretion by the state, within the criminal law. Therefore, this standard in the field of criminal regulation, although imposing higher requirements for the legislature, does not require clarity and communication to express prohibition or a legal order, to the absolute extent (judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal of 28 January 2003 case file K 2/02). The principle of definiteness (specificity) of the criminal law does not preclude the legislature to use unspecified or evaluative terms if their referents can be determined (judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal of 23 January 2003 case file K 2/02). In the case of the challenged provision of copyright law, the reference by the legislator to undefined concepts should be regarded as justified by the nature of copyright regulations, which are applied in dynamic and changing conditions in the era of new technologies. Thus, the legislator used the construction of the so-called substantive offence, i.e. an offense, which consists of the action of the offender and the result of the offense that is specified in the criminal law. In simple terms, it’s such a crime, which is determined the occurrence of a specific effect, and not the manner in which the offender caused that effect.

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