Oxford v Moss – Case Summary

Oxford v Moss

High Court

Citations: (1979) 68 Cr App R 183.


The defendant was a student at Oxford University. He managed to obtain a proof copy of an upcoming exam, read its contents, and then returned it. He was charged with theft of the confidential information within the exam paper. He could not be charged with theft of the paper, as it was clear that he always intended to return it and so had no intention to permanently deprive the University of it.

The magistrates court dismissed the charge on the basis that confidential information could not constitute ‘property’ within the meaning of the Theft Act 1968. This was despite the definition of property under the statute including ‘intangible property’. The University appealed.

  1. Did the confidential information constitute property within the meaning of the Theft Act?

The High Court affirmed the magistrate’s decision. Confidential information does not fall within the meaning of intangible property under the Theft Act.

This Case is Authority For…

Intellectual property is not property for the purposes of the Theft Act 1968 offences.


Wien J also noted that in the case of intellectual property, it is not possible to show that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner (since they would still retain ownership of the information).