Anyone downloading or opening material from the internet or from e-mails needs to take care to ensure that they are not breaking the law.

The downloading and opening of attachments containing material which somebody knows is stolen or dishonestly obtained may constitute receiving stolen goods under the Crimes Act 1961.

If convicted the maximum penalty for receiving stolen goods is a jail term of up to 7 years.

The copying and distribution of material from the internet or emails can also be a breach of copyright.  Accordingly, recipients of material by email who have printed off copies of the attachment for themselves and their friends and/or forwarded them on to others may also be in breach of copyright.  The penalties for breach are severe.  You could be ordered to pay damages or in cases of commercial copying, you could face fines of up to $150,000 and/or imprisonment.

Given the massive amount of information shared by way of email and the internet, detection of offences or breach of copyright is difficult.  Notwithstanding this, technology exists whereby owners of information can detect unauthorised copying or downloading of their material.

Recording companies have developed technology to identify people who make unauthorised copies of songs belonging to their artists through the internet.

If you are not confident that what you are about to do is within the law, you are taking a risk.  So the next time you think about forwarding on an attachment or copying a file, think again, you could be breaking the law.