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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, 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 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 partly 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. They might then make 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.

There are various legal implications of illegal video recordings. Some of the most common can be categorised into the following 4 types:

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

While copyright infringements are predominantly a civil matter, they can occasionally be treated as criminal matters in the magistrate’s court (which can result in fines of up to £50,000 and 6-month prison sentences) or the Crown Court (which can result in maximum prison sentences of 10 years and unlimited fines). Creators can also bring claims for compensation if the use of the content 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 that the speaker holds in the book and might be prosecuted. Likewise, if a speaker is presenting 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 also IP infringement. This gets particularly severe when the illegally recorded footage is distributed and made available to others, especially if the content is put behind a paywall.

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 (ECHR) 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, often regarded as private. 

In these situations, it’s best to get all parties you record to sign Model release forms to avoid facing any legal action. Moreover, content (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, Image rights, and Human rights law.

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 may face lawsuits. 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 cannot 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 serious 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 risks of illegal video recording.

Secure your channels

There are protections you can put in place depending on the software you choose. For example, when you set up a conference bridge you can implement measures that make it difficult or impossible for anyone to record the conference. Some providers will also give you the option to disallow screen capture, 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 about it. Employees who have learned about illegal video recording will know how to spot the signs that it’s happening, respond to illegal recordings, and prevent it from happening. In other words, educating your employees turns them into an asset that can be used against illegal video recording.

Create anti-illegal recording policies

Of course, for rules to be broken, those rules have to first exist. As an employer, you have the power to create anti-illegal recording policies. These communicate your stance on illegal recordings and outline the consequences of illegally recording content. Ask a lawyer if you have any questions and use our Bespoke drafting service if you would like a policy drafted.

Provide legal footage

There are fewer reasons to illegally record videos when those same videos are simply provided 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 the footage sent out after the meeting 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.

Ask a lawyer if you have any questions or concerns about illegal video recordings.


Grace Lau
Grace Lau
Director of Growth Content at at Dialpad

Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cloud communication platform for better and easier team collaboration with features like Dialpad caller ID.

She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies and partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content.

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