Illegal video recording: 4 legal implications of taking videos without permission

If you didn’t know any better, you might say taking videos without permission is a harmless crime—but that’s far from the truth. It’s actually a crime that comes with various legal implications, which we’re going to explore in more detail, followed by tips on how you can prevent illegal video recording. First, we’ll discuss what illegal video recording entails and when it usually happens.

What is illegal video recording?

Illegal video recording is taking videos without permission or otherwise capturing videos in a way that violates any prior agreement. That means filming or screen-recording content you don’t have permission to film.

Illegal video recording might take place for personal use. However, it’s often done so the person recording can distribute their illegal footage, whether for free or otherwise. They might share the videos privately or make them publicly available online.

When do people illegally record videos?

There are plenty of occasions that people take advantage of in order to record videos illegally. Perhaps the most obvious example is in cinemas. Whenever you go to see a movie, you’re expected to put all devices away, especially video equipment. This is to prevent you from taking videos without permission.

Of course, unless you run a movie theatre, you’re unlikely to experience this type of illegal video recording firsthand.

In business terms, people might illegally record videos during calls or conferences. If your small business phone services offer you the chance to speak to customers or team members via video calls, you may find employees creating personal records of those videos or making them less personal by sharing them online.

Businesses might also host events that are susceptible to illegal recording. For example, speeches and workshops could be recorded without the hosts’ or participants’ knowledge or consent. In short, if there’s an event happening, either virtually or in person, it’s always possible that illegal recording might take place.

With that established, let’s explore four legal implications of illegal video recording.

1. Fines and prison sentences for copyright infringement

Depending on the contents of the video that’s being recorded, there’s a chance of being prosecuted for copyright infringement as a direct consequence of illicit video recording. 

While copyright infringements are predominantly a civil matter, they can occasionally be treated as criminal matters, resulting in fines of up to £50,000 and even a 6-month prison sentence from a magistrate’s court. If the matter is handled in the Crown Court, there is a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, and there is no limit on the fine that can be awarded. Creators can also bring a claim for compensation if the use of the material has led to a financial loss for them.

Let’s use the example of a business event where someone is giving a talk. If that person is presenting content from a book they wrote and a third party records that presentation without the speaker’s permission, they’re violating the copyright terms of the book and will be prosecuted. 

Likewise, if the speaker is making a presentation about the contributions they’ve made to your business, those ideas may well be their intellectual property (IP). That means that filming and distributing them without the speaker’s permission is once again IP infringement.

This gets particularly severe when the illegally recorded footage is distributed and made available to others. That goes doubly for content that’s put behind a paywall.

After all, if you give a presentation and someone else makes money off your ideas without your knowledge or consent, that goes completely against the very principles of IP.

For more information, read How to avoid copyright infringement.

2. Privacy and data protection

In the UK it isn’t illegal to film someone in a public place without their consent unless the video is recorded for nefarious purposes. There is no expectation of privacy in a park or the street, for example. 

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights confers on everyone a right to respect for their private and family life. This right can potentially help a person protect their image rights if they can demonstrate that their right was breached (eg if a video was taken in a private setting where they had an expectation of privacy).

Places such as shopping centres, restaurants, or museums may appear public but are, in fact, private. In these situations, it’s best to get all parties you record to sign a Model release form to avoid facing any charges.

Moreover, material (such as videos or photos) featuring identifiable individuals is considered personal data, which is protected in the UK under the country’s data protection regime. This data protection regime gives certain rights to individuals whose data is being collected. It also imposes legal obligations on those who collect them (eg your business).

For more information, read Model release letters and Image rights.

3. Damages for IP infringement for using copyrighted music without a licence

If you record and distribute a video that contains copyrighted music without having a relevant agreement (eg a use licence) in place, you may be infringing on someone’s copyright and they may sue you for compensation. So, before recording and distributing a video that contains copyrighted music, it’s advisable to find out who the copyright owner is and come to an agreement with them. Any such agreement should set out how the music may be used and how the copyright owner will be compensated. Be aware, that certain moral rights attach to copyright.

4. Fines for piracy

Illegal video recording and piracy go hand in hand. That’s because few people create illegal videos that are only for personal use. 

Just like people violate publishing agreements to illegally distribute music online, more often than not, people violate other legal agreements when they distribute video content online and allow others to access it. Whether this is done for free or in exchange for money, it has the same name—piracy.

Pirated content can’t be regulated legally. Its consumption doesn’t bring revenue to the creators behind the content. 

Taking videos of someone else’s content without permission and distributing them means you’re giving out bootlegged versions of that content. If you’re caught distributing bootlegged video content, you can face a fine of up to £5,000 and a prison sentence of up to 5 years.

Tips for preventing illegal video recording

Now that we’ve established why illegal video recording is a serious matter with legal implications, it’s time to look on the bright side. That’s to say that we’re going to consider some of the top tips you can use to counter the risk of illegal video recording.

Secure your channels

There are protections you can put in place depending on the software you choose. When you set up a conference bridge, for example, you can take preventative measures that make it difficult or impossible for anyone to record the conference. Some providers will give you the option to disallow screen capture, for one, which makes it much more difficult for anyone to illegally capture high-quality footage.

When your communications channels are protected from illegal video recording, it’s much more difficult for would-be recorders to carry out their plans. They’d have to get a camera and physically record their screen, which leads to low-quality footage that’s not suited to widespread distribution.

Educate employees

The best way to reduce the chances of illegal video recording is to teach everyone at your business all about it. Employees that have learned all about illegal video recording will know how to spot the signs that it’s happening. They’ll also know how to respond, as well as how to prevent it from happening again. In other words, educating your employees turns them into a weapon against illegal video recording. That’s why it’s vital to make education an integral part of your employee and facility management plans.

Create anti-illegal recording policies

Of course, for rules to be broken, those rules have to exist first. You have the power to create iron-clad anti-illegal recording policies. These make it clear what your stance on the practice is and can also outline the consequences for anyone caught doing it. Ask a lawyer if you would like a bespoke policy drafted.

Using the right process management software, you can make it next to impossible for anyone to record anything you do online without your permission. You can use the same principle to rule out illegal video recording within your business altogether.

Provide legal footage

There are few reasons to illegally record videos when those same videos are simply provided to you for free. That’s why giving out legal recordings to relevant parties strongly discourages them from illegally recording your content.

For online meetings or talks, it’s simple to set up screen recording software. You can then have that software send out the footage after the meeting concludes so everyone can access it as and when they need it. In-person events can be a little more difficult unless you’ve already got conferencing software for your business. In that case, you can simply record the event using your software and then send out the footage once it’s over.

Things to keep in mind

Even though illegal video recording can result in serious legal implications, people may still choose to do it. If you’re the victim of illegal video recording, you can always report it to the relevant authorities so that they can help you recover the content and prevent its distribution.

However, with the right preventive measures, it shouldn’t get that far.

We’ve shown you how to protect yourself from illegal video recording, as well as the legal implications associated with the practice. If you suspect that someone you know is recording illegal footage, consider explaining these implications to them to dissuade them.

Grace Lau