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Notes on Copyright and Currency

As a general rule, the reproduction of currency is a problem not quite so much from a copyright point of view but because it would (under most circumstances) be a violation of laws relating to counterfeiting. Nonetheless, copyright may subsist in banknotes and coins, and those reproducing them (whether by creating physical reproductions or by simply filming them) may find themselves being prosecuted for copyright infringement, as the laws of some countries appear to contemplate.


Notes: The Bank of Canada owns the copyright in Canadian notes, and asserts its copyright with a copyright notice. According to its ‘Policy on the Reproduction of Bank Note Images’, “[i]t is not necessary to request the Bank's permission to use bank note images for film or video purposes, provided that the images are intended to show a general indication of currency, and that there is no danger that the images could be misused”. In other circumstances, permission must be obtained from the Bank of Canada, which ‘will usually consent if there is no counterfeiting risk and if the intended use is in good taste’.

Coins: The Royal Canadian Mint owns the IP rights in coins, coin images and designs. The Policy of the Mint does not state that no permission is required for filming, so presumably, permission would have to be obtained for the same.


HM Treasury has issued 'Guidelines on Coinage and Banknotes Issues' which are,  inter alia, intended to to assist persons who are considering making reproductions of coins and banknotes.

Notes: The Bank of England owns copyright in British currency notes, and permission must be obtained to reproduce bank notes (before taking steps to do so), even if the reproduction is on film. Failure to obtain permission could cause one to have committed an offence under Section 18(1) of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, which states: “It is an offence for any person, unless the relevant authority has previously consented in writing, to reproduce on any substance whatsoever, and whether or not on the correct scale, any British currency note or any part of a British currency note.”

Coins: The Crown owns copyright for designs and images of United Kingdom decimal coins although the authority to determine permissible use of coinage design and reproduction of images of UK coins has been delegated to the Royal Mint. The website of the Royal Mint states: “The flat form reproduction of a coin for use in advertisements or other promotional literature is normally permissible, providing the coin is reproduced in a faithful likeness and shown in good taste. ... Where there is any doubt as to whether a reproduction or use of coin design is permissible, an application for Royal Mint authorisation should be made to: Information Office, Royal Mint, Llantrisant, Pontyclun CF72 8YT.”

The Euro Area:

Notes: The copyright in Euro banknotes is owned by the European Central Bank. There are a few circumstances under which Euro banknotes may be reproduced, although any reproduction which may cause a person to mistake the reproduction for a real note would be unlawful under Decision ECB/2003/4. The ECB cooperates with national central banks to protect copyright, and infringing reproductions are deal with in accordance with the standard procedure specified in Guideline ECB/2003/5. The first line of defence against infringement is under national laws, while the second line of defence is provided for in Council Regulation (EC) No. 2532/98.

Bank notes are protected by a Counterfeit Deterrence System (CDS), "which prevents personal computers and digital imaging software from capturing or reproducing the images of protected banknotes”. Users, who have a legitimate interest in reproducing Euro banknote images, may obtain CDS-disabled digital images from the Directorate Banknotes provided they meet certain requirements.

Coins: Euro coins are issued by the Euro area countries, and the European Commission coordinates all coin matters at the Euro area level. The website of the European Commission states that the “Copyright on the design of the common sides of the euro coins belongs to the European Community represented by the Commission. However, the European Commission has assigned each euro-area Member State all the Community rights as regards their territory. .... Member States of the euro area have authority over copyright issues regarding the national sides of the euro coins, in accordance with their national legislation.”

Relevant European legislation includes:
Rules on reproduction of banknotes (ECB/2003/4) (Official Journal L078 25.03.2003, p 16)Non-compliant reproductions of euro banknotes (ECB/2003/5) (Official Journal L078 25.03.2003, p 20)Commission communication on copyright protection of the common face design of the euro coins. Official Journal 2011/C 41/03 Council Regulation (EC) No 2182/2004 concerning medals and tokens similar to euro coins Council Regulation (EC) No 2183/2004 extending to the non-participating Member States the application of Regulation (EC) No 2182/2004 concerning medals and tokens similar to euro coins.


It is unclear who owns the copyright in Indian currency.

Notes: The Paper Currency Act, 1861, stopped private and presidency banks issuing currency, and granted the Government of India a monopoly to issue bank notes. However, the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934, had the Reserve Bank take over the function of issuing notes from the Office of the Controller of Currency, Government of India. However, under Section 25 of the RBI Act, the design of banknotes must be approved by the Central Government on the recommendations of the Central Board of the Reserve Bank of India.

Coins: In India, the term “rupee coin” includes a one rupee note. The minting of coins is governed by the Indian Coinage Act, 1906 which states (in Section 6) that: ‘Coins may be coined at the Mint for issue under the authority of the Central Government, of such denominations not higher than one hundred rupees, of such dimensions and designs, and of such metals or of mixed metals of such composition as the Central Government may, by notification in the official Gazette, determine. The Reserve Bank merely acts as an agent of the Central Government for in relation to the distribution, issue and handling of the coins (as may be inferred from Section 38 of the RBI Act).

Considering that both the Reserve Bank of India and the Government of India pay a role in determining the design of currency, it is possible that they would jointly own the copyright in currency although the issue of who owns the IP in currency designs does not appear to have been explicitly dealt with. Similarly, there appear to be no laws / guidelines specifically dealing with the reproduction of currency. However, as the RBI website states: “Counterfeiting banknotes / using as genuine, forged or counterfeit banknotes / possession of forged or counterfeit banknote / making or possessing instruments or materials for forging or counterfeiting banknotes making or using documents resembling banknotes   are offences under Sections 489A to 489E of the Indian Penal Code and are punishable in the Courts of Law by fine or imprisonment ranging from seven years to life imprisonment or both, depending on the offence.”


US Copyright law does not appear to contain any provision dealing with the ownership of copyright in currency (and it is possible that currency would be considered to be a non-copyrightable work under 17 USC 101 and 105).

18 USC 504 (Printing and Filming of United States and Foreign Obligations & Securities) allows the filming of real currency. However, there is no provision which clearly allows the filming of fake currency. Further, fake currency would be required to comply with the provisions of 31 CFR 411 (i.e. The Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992) which explains the (stringent) requirements to which the makers of fake currency must adhere. Finally, destroying currency is a crime under 18 USC 333, which prohibits burning money or mutilating currency in any way so as to render it unfit to be reissued.

(This post is by Nandita Saikia and was first published at Indian Copyright.)