Monday 14 March 2011

Copyright in currency: taking note of the Bank of England

I've recently been asked what the position is with regard to the reproduction of bank notes in the United Kingdom.  The Bank of England has a helpful page, reproduced below, which would tend to suggest that copyright is the least of the problems facing those who would reproduce British currency, since it seems that even those uses which might pass muster under the 'fair dealing' provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 risk attracting criminal liability under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 (here).

Incidentally, the 1981 Act employs the term "counterfeit" and furnishes a definition of that word -- but it is specific to that Act and is unlikely to be in much use in intellectual property litigation.

Reproducing Banknotes


Under section 18(1) of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 it is a criminal offence for any person, without the prior consent in writing of the Bank of England, to reproduce on any substance whatsoever, and whether or not on the correct scale, any Bank of England banknote or any part of a Bank of England banknote. The Bank of England also owns the copyright in its banknotes.

Novelty Banknotes

The Bank of England does not give authority for any reproductions in the form of a novelty banknote (e.g. one where a celebrity or other images are shown on a banknote or other such changes).  This is because there have been instances of notes altered in this way, being accepted as genuine banknotes by unsuspecting members of the public.


Those wishing to reproduce Bank of England banknotes should, before taking steps to reproduce such notes, apply for consent on-line by completing and submitting the Banknote Reproductions Application Form, which contains explanation and guidance notes. The Note Reproductions Officer will endeavour to respond within five working days of receipt. Postal applications can also be made by printing and completing the application form below and mailing it to the correspondence address given below. The Note Reproductions Officer will endeavour to post a response within 5 working days of receipt.
The conditions (listed within the Application Form) must be met for any reproductions of any notes currently in circulation and Series D (notes issued in the 1970s and 80s depicting Isaac Newton (£1), Duke of Wellington (£5), Florence Nightingale (£10), William Shakespeare (£20) and Sir Christopher Wren (£50). For notes from earlier Series, the conditions may under certain circumstances be relaxed. If you wish to reproduce older Bank of England notes that were issued before 1971 but cannot meet all of the conditions stated in the current guidelines, please contact the Notes Reproduction Officer to discuss the matter further.
The Notes Reproduction Officer of the Bank of England can be contacted or on +44 (0)20 7601 4028.
Correspondence about the reproduction of banknotes should be addressed to:
Bank of England,
Customer Banking and Notes Division,
Note Reproductions Officer,
Notes Accounting and Policy,
Threadneedle Street,

The downloadable application form can be accessed here here.

1 comment:

Francis Davey said...

Geoffrey Robertson gives a witty account of just how humourless the Bank can be on this subject in his book "The Justice Game". He defended the performance artist JSG Boggs who spends hand drawn pictures of bank notes. Boggs was tried in 1986 for counterfeiting, even though his notes were obviously not real (being to some extent caricatures); were blank on one side (so one hardly thinks they could be used instead of the real thing) and were almost always worth much more than the face value.

It really is worth reading Geoffrey's account of the trial.