/ Technology

Copying a CD onto your iPod – are you breaking the law?

Padlock sitting on music CDs

Did you know it’s against the law to copy a CD you’ve bought onto your MP3 player? It’s even illegal to transfer your vinyl record collection into digital files on your PC. Is it time to bring the law into the 21st Century?

Ripping music from your CD onto your iPod is called ‘format shifting’, and it breaks UK copyright law. It’s a law that many think is past its sell-by date, as we do at Which?.

As long ago as 2006, the BPI, which represents the music industry, said it wanted to make it ‘unequivocally clear to the consumer that, if they copy their CDs for their private use in order to move music from format to format, we will not pursue them’.

Updating copyright law

If you did know about this particular law and you abide by it, you’re in the minority. In our survey of 2,106 UK consumers, just over half said they fall foul of this law and a similar proportion had no idea that format shifting was even against the law.

Perhaps more importantly, when told it was against the law, 63% thought they should be able to make a copy of something they legitimately bought so that they can listen to it or watch it in a different format. Four in 10 people also assume that the price paid for copyrighted material includes ‘permission’ to make private copies to another format.

Making format shifting legal

But good news is on the horizon – this unsatisfactory state of affairs is set to change. In 2012, the Government agreed with the recommendation of the Hargreaves Review that making a copy of copyrighted material in a different format should be legal if it’s for private use. The necessary legislation has been drafted and will be presented to Parliament soon, with a view to it becoming law in April 2014.

We’re due to meet the Government to talk about this soon, so we’d like to hear from you. Do you agree that format shifting for private use should be legal?


Of course it should!

And since you’re here, Mark McLaren, can you get involved again in the convo topics for nuisance calls and Sale of Goods Act?

We need market research calls to be opt in only

Call centres and sales companies shouldn’t use multiple names and telephone numbers to make sales and marketing calls

The Sale of Goods Act should be updated with longer warranties

The law should have been changed years ago, and not at a time when many have stopped buying CDs in favour of downloaded music. Clearly it should remain illegal to sell a CD and keep a copy of the music.

I rip any new CD i buy onto my laptop and move it into my Amazon Cloud Player all the time, Just so I can listen to it no matter what laptop/pc I am using at the time.

I admit I didn’t even know I was breaking the law….but no, I wont be stopping.

When Amazon launched that service didn’t they pre load your (and everyone elses) cloud with all the CDs you’d previously brought from them?

Mass floating of the law there then. Tut tut Amazon.

But yes, a change in this law is long overdue, just like so many others. ( e.g. Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, not including multiple unit price promotions (such as three for two)


Yes, you are correct, each time i buy a CD from Amazon they give me the MP3 on my cloud player free.

I hate to admit this, but, I buy albums like “The Very Best Of Heartbeat” and “Heartbeat [3CD Box set]” they don’t give the MP3 of those so I need to rip them myself. Right pain.

I did get excited when amazon emailed me telling me they’d done that, only for me to realise I’d bought all my CDs from play, grrr.

Your music taste in music is safe from comment from me (at least) , as mine is probably odd to you (and everyone else).

I think Amazon manages to legally get around this by saying that when you buy a CD they throw in the MP3 for free – like a “buy one, get one free” supermarket deal. So either Amazon is itself paying the royalty for the MP3 out of the money it takes for the CD, or it has reached a deal with the record label regarding royalties.

What is Which?’s position on books and format shifting of them?

Format shifting should be legalised. I knew it was/is illegal but do it anyway for personal use/backup.

We’re currently copying old VHS music videos to DVD because you can’t purchase them in DVD/BD format. ( If you could and, the price was right, we may well [and have in some cases] re-purchase[d] for the better quality as the old VHS tapes do have some drop-out, but many of these are not available on DVD. Some of those that we have found on DVD/BD are at ridiculous prices, way more than the original VHS price! )

Same for old vinyl records to CD.
Same for any other music/video that you’ve purchased for personal use.

It’s the software you are paying for. You shouldn’t be forced to repay just for different media or, face a possible threat of action when copying for personal use..

Btw. I hate piracy. It is theft. The original performers and producers should be paid for their efforts. But, you shouldn’t have to pay twice when you simply want to replay using different media. After all, I expect they don’t perform twice – once to record to CD and then again to record to mp3 for download!

Additionally, copying gives you the benefit of a back-up should any disaster strike.

As for format shifting books. My personal view: If it’s Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to electronic visual media or automated vocal recording for replay – It should be legal for personal use. If you choose to read aloud and record the audio, again fine, it’s your effort using software you’ve paid for – it should be legal for personal use.

This is one area where the outdated copyright legislation should definitely be revised.

David says:
24 November 2013

yes of course this should be legal but it isnt an area where the law is being used contrary to Which members/consumers interests in practice, so hardly a priority. better to focus your efforts on where people are unprotected or where the law isnt working than non-issues? Is this Which attempting to ‘look good’ by appearing to influence [where there is already agreement the law needs updating and the topic is fashionable ie tech related] rather than spending time on things that affect a larger number of consumers more [even if many arent Which members] eg lack of real competition in the energy and banking sectors, lack of accountability for what services we get as consumers for our taxes, finding ways to stop uk govt [so us the taxpayer] being ripped off so much by big business.

as a start, why dont you annually write down and publish your priorities for improving thins for consumers, or indeed consult your members on what they want you to focus on…

Colin says:
24 November 2013

How about when you buy a book you get the licence to download an electronic copy.
Was that a scream of rage and terror from the book publishing industry?
What it seems to be about is that publishers of music and literature all want to protect the enormous profits to be made by electronic publishing. It costs less than buttons to store the files on their servers (hidden in some third world country no doubt) and even less to download it yet they expect the same from you as if you were buying hardcopy (music in particular).

Peter says:
22 January 2014

Not sure yet whether there are large profits in publishing. Films make the studios a lot of cash, but in the print world, the online “competition” (in the form of Amazon in particular) is a real problem for bookshops, and while I can see your argument regarding the comparison of electronic publishing vs printed books, we’re not privy to the economics of the publishing industry – they probably publish 10 to 20 “failures” for every major success.

As for hiding servers “in some third world country” you are most likely wrong, because of the way the internet works – nearly all countries make accessing servers in the USA a priority and pay for the links themselves… (the costs are hardly ever met for these links by any USA companies – the costs are borne by the remote countries, worthwhile because so many of the cheapest services, and lots of information is on servers based in the USA).

Some of the most popular websites use modern technology called “content distribution networks”, and these are commercial services so the costs aren’t negligible… It is cheaper than printing a book, I have no doubt, but while the costs for a book are probably clearer (depending on the number of pages, and quantity of images, in determining the quantity of paper, cost/time for printing, transport costs), there are not inconsiderable technical issues involved in electronic publishing, and cannot just be dismissed as “less than buttons”).

Sophie Gilbert says:
24 November 2013

“As long ago as 2006, the BPI, which represents the music industry, said it wanted to make it ‘unequivocally clear to the consumer that, if they copy their CDs for their private use in order to move music from format to format, we will not pursue them’.”

As long ago as 2006? I’m surprised it’s not as long ago as when we started being able to record our vinyls onto cassettes to be able listen to them in our cars!!

Anyway, what the BPI and the Government are saying is, the horse has bolted, it would cost us much more time and effort than it would be worth to even try to bring it back, and there’d be a revolution, so why bother to close the stable door now.

Not only do I format-shift material I have already bought, but I take the opportunity to clean it up. In some cases this involves a bit of painstaking work programming out scratches with clever software. In other cases…If I can buy a good quality replacement from a reputable source at a reasonable price, I do so. However, for hard-to-find stuff and stuff that’s out-of-print, I peer-to-peer-transfer a clean copy with a pretty clear conscience.

Shaun Witts says:
25 November 2013

Copying purchased music has been going on for years ever since a means to do so was available – I remember my father copying vinyl records onto a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and I did the same onto cassettes and now to mp3.
With mp3 players now being incorporated into so many different aspects of daily life, from phones to cars, of course it should be legal to copy CDs one has paid for.

Andrew Baines says:
25 November 2013

Horse has already bolted, no point spending too much time on this.

I first bought music on cassette, then LP, then CD. Now it’s all on mp3. Does the music industry really expect me to have bought the same stuff 4 times? If I’m buying the medium, then mp3 would be free. If I’m buying a license to listen to a particular song, then I shouldn’t have to pay for it for each medium.

It is not against the law to format shift; but you need a license to do it. Unfortunately, the initial PRS ProDub license costs around £250 for up to 5,000 tracks and then an annual top-up license is another £100 per 1,000 tracks.

This license is designed to allow DJs and such like to transfer their record/CD collections onto digital media, so they can operate from a laptop. Interesting to note that the rate for these “professionals” to format shift works out at only 5p-10p per track, so why is Joe Public expected to pay the full cost of the track for each medium?

Another quality post Em.

I am always annoyed that the media industry got away with increasing the length of copyright in the infamous Mickey Mouse Act and then through the WTO treaties. Anyway Round 2 looms and to be honest I think consumer bodies should be pushing back the length of copyright.


Thank you DT.

If the media industries are so keen on extending copyright to absurd lengths, maybe it should also be retrospective. How do you suppose Hollywood would feel about paying royalties on all those films based on Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Dickin’s Christmas Carol, Shelley’s Frankenstein … ?

It is daft that the law has not been updated to match the change in the way people use the technology.

Hopefully we won’t have to wait long for this new legislation to go through.

Peter says:
22 January 2014

I think we’re going to need a major revamp of copyright and other laws, given the way technological advances increase in their speed all the time. It was some time ago when two guys were charged with “stealing electricity” (instead of hacking) because at the time, there wasn’t a law that would make hacking into a system against the law.

Now we are faced with threats and bullying online and while one would ‘assume’ there was adequate protection, the fact is that with servers and services not necessarily being based in the UK, there needs to be some global co-operation and simplification of laws to allow cross-border crime to be more easily investigated, and for charges to be brought when appropriate.

I think it’s Germany where ‘drive by’ use of a router, and breaking into a computer, may be considered illegal only if the user has taken steps to protect their equipment. In other words, if you did not encrypt your wireless connection, you are afforded no protection, as it’s considered your own fault. That’s one way to remind the public that they need to keep themselves up to date with the technology and learn how to keep strangers out, or be at the mercy of wrong-doers.

I don’t understand it. Why do you all want to rip me and my brother off? We’ve never stolen anything from you. Hell’s bells, nobody minds you format shifting if you’re not planning on then selling off one of those formats, we’ve said so often enough, but the simple fact is, it’s impossible to reword the law so that it only applies to criminals.

I also have the need to convert AA to MP3, luckily I find a guide on how to convert AA to MP3.
It really works.
Hope it also helps for you.