Why Do Canada And Europe Copyright Money?

from the questions,-questions,-questions? dept

We’ve discussed in the past the odd idea that any government should be able to copyright anything it produces, but plenty of governments still do maintain things like “crown copyright” or other similar concepts for content they create. Yet, it looks like some countries have gone one step further. They copyright their money. Yes, Michael Scott points us to a blog post from an American law professor, Eric E. Johnson, who was on a trip to Canada and was surprised to discover that they have copyright notices on their paper currency. Of course, this should make you wonder: if you counterfeit some Canadian money are you also on the hook for copyright infringement violations? Or is there some other reason for the copyright notice. Are they afraid other nations might copy the design without compensation?

Finding the whole thing bizarre, but remembering that I have some Canadian currency from my last trip there, I checked — and, indeed, in tiny print in the lower right-hand corner, there is a copyright notice. And then… bonus. Tucked in with my Canadian cash was a 5 euro bill as well… and it also appears to have a copyright notice on it right at the top in the center (though, it’s tiny). I did a quick search, and indeed, it appears that the design of the euro is also covered by copyright with specific limitations on copying. Of course, I thought that was what counterfeiting laws were for — so why even bother with copyright?

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Why Do Canada And Europe Copyright Money?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Mike C. (profile) says:

Security through obscurity...

While it’s a bad one, the only theory I can come up with is that they planned to use infringement claims to keep images of the bills from being shared publicly, thus reducing the number of people who have clean images to counterfeit from.

And wow – that’s an even worse theory when I see it typed… 🙂

Jake (user link) says:

Re: Security through obscurity...

It’s also possible that the idea was to force people printing stuff like Monopoly money to make it sufficiently different from actual bills to pass the moron-in-a-hurry test, lest someone try to pass it off as legal tender when making a payment.
Which is actually pretty sensible, even if it’s not exactly what copyright was designed for.

Valkor says:

Re: Re: Security through obscurity...

I’ve heard people say that American bills are looking more and more like Monopoly (R)(TM)(ETC) money (with the value following quickly), but I haven’t heard anything going the other way. Monopoly money is *designed* to be obviously Monopoly money, not legal tender, if for no other reason than advertising/product recognition.

Jake (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Security through obscurity...

Monopoly money probably wasn’t the best example, though I have an idea the various localised versions use their own unique in-game currency. But I have seen play-money, of the sort a young child might use with a cash-register playset, that looks extremely close to British currency except for reduced size or a few altered details. Putting that kind of product to the local equivalent of the moron-in-a-hurry test is definitely necessary.

Valkor says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Security through obscurity...

They sell the exact same play money in grocery stores in the US. It’s the wrong size, the wrong color, yet still perfectly recognizable as a representation of money. Toy companies modify the details so as not to create counterfeit money, not to respect “IP” rights on money. I’m quite glad that the standard for counterfeiting is higher than the standard for trademark violation.

Andrew says:

Re: Re: Security through obscurity...

I think this is exactly the point, and it’s a sound one. When you’re a country that invests in having a currency that is widely recognized as yours, and easy to differentiate from others, you lose if someone copies your designs. This shows up a lot in coins (which don’t seem to have a copyright symbol anywhere). There are a couple of caribbean currencies who have worthless coins that look like Canadian dimes. They get passed off as such frequently. If this happened with bills, the Canadian Gov’t could go after the infringing country and ask them to stop making bills that looked so similar to Canadian ones. The frequency of “counterfeit” passing (which is easily measured by banks) would actually be proof that the moron-in-a-hurry test is failed.

jezsik (profile) says:

Probably nothing to do with the whole bill

I’m betting the copyright is there to prevent someone from using a portion of an image of the bill for advertising or something similar. For that matter, it could be to prevent someone from using an image that is clearly not counterfeiting, but still infringing: say, a billboard of a bill with advertising text across it.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Answer from inside the Helmet:

“Why Do Canada And Europe Copyright Money?”

Apparently, and I’m still reading up on this, it has something to do with trademark law, actually. The idea is that if the Euro is copyrighted, as is it’s dingbat and/or logo, then you cannot use such images and/or logos in a trademarked image as a citizen or corporation.

You know more about this stuff than I do, so you can tell me whether that makes sense from a legal standpoint…

Devonavar (user link) says:


I suspect there’s a very mundane explanation, at least for the Canadian bills. The art on the bills is commissioned from well known (or well connected) Canadian artists. As such, the visual design would fall under copyright.

My guess is whatever contract the mint has with the artists assigns the copyright of the bill’s design to the government of Canada, and the copyright notice is evidence of this agreement.

I don’t buy the vaguely conspiratorial theory that it is somehow meant to augment anti-counterfeit laws. I think this is a fairly clearcut (and, given the law, legitimate) case of an artistic design falling under copyright.

Chris says:

Re: Art

The Mint has nothing to do with the commissioning or printing of paper bank notes in Canada. It it the sole responsibility of the Bank of Canada, who contracts the actual printing work to the Canadian Bank Note Company and a highly suspect German consortium. My guess is the copyright notice has something to do with the fact the notes are printed by a private corporation, but I am no expert in copyright law.

ethorad (profile) says:

UK money too

My £10 is (c) The Governor and Company of the Bank of England.

The extra “protection” whereby copyright laws could prevent copies being made which weren’t being passed off as real (ie the billboards mentioned above) sort of makes sense, but I see plenty of pictures of money in various films, TV series, adverts etc. I guess it maybe depends on how similar those copies are, it’s difficult to tell on the screen.

Although, you have to ask – if copyright is to promote the creation of art, would people really not print money if they didn’t have copyright protection? 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Counterfeiting isn’t what they are protecting against, it’s things like novelty money, reproductions (larger or smaller) for everything from keychains to wall posters. they aren’t copyrighting the money, they are copyrighting the design and the design elements on the bills.

Another techduh story of wonder…

Martin (profile) says:

IIRC it was introduced in the UK after the Bank of England lost a court case prosecuting an artist who had created artistic recreation of current banknotes in watercolour at the exact size etc as legal tender. From then on the (C) appeared.

I think they just wanted another layer of protection to allow them to prevent people getting even close…

Martin (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Here we go, I belive this was the case I remember…

“Take another look at the new £5 note: ‘© THE GOVERNOR AND COMPANY OF THE BANK OF ENGLAND 1990’ is printed on both sides of the note in the bottom left-hand corner. A unique occurrence in the history of English currency; and an original contribution to the historical lineage linking art and money. Why? We asked the Bank of England and were told that the Boggs case certainly ‘focused their minds’ on the question of reproductions and artistic use of their images. “

Anonymous Coward says:

You can add Hong Kong currency to the list of bills with copyright protections(?) as well. I went through the various currencies I have on hand (Singapore, Egypt, UAE, Hong Kong, Australia, Iraq) and the only one I saw was on several Hong Kong bills. However, the Honk Kong bills do not appear to be issued by the government. Instead, one of them is issued by “Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited” and the other by “The Honkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited”. So I can maybe understand why they have a copyright.

jerome (profile) says:

Art (bis)

“so why even bother with copyright”

They don’t bother with anything. In most EU countries, every artwork or speech or written paper is protected by copyright (exceptions are laws and court deliberations). There is no need to bother or register anything. Coin or banknote design is obviously an artwork, thus it is protected by copyright. Copyright notice or symbol (c) is a bonus, it is not required.

Only the US had the (good) idea that work done on behalf of the federal state should be public domain. Feel free to convince the EU Commission to pass an equivalent bill.

Joe says:

counterfeiting versus reproductions

I think the goal here was to give the bank tools to combat counterfeiting as well as reproductions.

Their reasoning is explained here:


They make exceptions for video usage and also go into more detail with:


The Bank’s goals with respect to the reproduction of bank note images

Although the Bank is the copyright owner of the images used on Canadian bank notes, it recognizes that currency is an important symbol of value in Canada. Accordingly, people may wish to reproduce images for appropriate reasons. The Bank will ordinarily consent to such reproductions if

a)there is no risk that the reproduced image could be mistaken for a genuine note or misused by counterfeiters

b)the proposed use does not tarnish the dignity and importance of currency to Canadians.


I would assume the EU and Britain’s logic is somewhat similar.

Judging how i see little plastic $10,000 key chains in the tourist stores, I don’t think this is overly enforced.


Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Real Reason

The real reason they have them copyrighted is because the penalties for breaking copyright are way worse than any other law you could possibly break. 😉
After they get 3 strikes and proactive-policement their next move will be to get copyright infringement punishable by death.

Judge: “I am really sorry but all fair use has been removed from law so I am going to have to give you the chair.”

Yoan says:

Eurpêan copyright on money

Well, I believe the reason for the copyright on European euro’s is done to prevent a non euro-country to make a currency design that looks similar to theirs,

Turkey once made a coin that looks and had the size of a 2 euro coin but with a lower value. And these ended up in the euro-country’s. And people started using them in vending machines, so money was lost with selling products out of vending machines, but they were also use in gabling slots.
So that’s why they probably copyright their currency.

jerome (profile) says:

Re: European copyright on money

1) Copyright protection does not prevent Turkey from minting coins of specific weight and size that by chance can fool vending machines in other countries.

(Copyright, if it applies, only protects the drawing, which at the moment is not used by vending machines to identify coins.)

2) Where exactly would you like to sue the government of Turkey for infringing copyright of euro coins? In a tribunal located in Turkey –where the process will be discarded for national interest– or in the EU –where the government of Turkey did not by itself commit any offense (the only offense here is made by the customer trying to pay with a coin without legal tender)?

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...