Last week saw the publication of a long awaited report on the UK’s copyright laws. One of its main recommendations was that the copying of CDs and DVDs for private use should be made legal. Isn’t it about time?
The Hargreaves Report, commissioned by David Cameron and published by Professor Ian Hargreaves, made a series of recommendations for freeing up the UK’s copyright system which, it says, has ‘fallen behind what is needed’.
Among other suggestions, such as letting people make parodies of copyrighted work, the report suggests that the copying of music and video should be lawful if it’s for private purposes.
Ripping media and the law
That sounds like a perfectly sensible idea. So sensible, in fact, that it’s only after a moment or two that you stop and think ‘Hang on, does this mean it’s currently illegal to copy CDs and DVDs for my own use?’
Well amazingly enough, it is. Britain’s outdated laws, first developed as long ago as the 16th century, mean that backing up music, eBooks or videos is illegal. Similarly, ‘ripping’ your music or videos so you can play them on a different device – known as format shifting – is another infringement of copyright.
While no one has actually been hauled off to prison for ripping their purchased music onto their own iPod for their own use, the current law makes that a possibility. This is clearly ridiculous – especially when over 50% of Brits admit that they’ve broken the law in this way.
When we first argued that ripping music shouldn’t be illegal, commenter Tungsten argued the same should be true for video:
‘I already own the film, so why should I buy it a second time just to keep watching it. I don’t need a DVD and I don’t need a new download, so why should I help line the pockets of some studio executive to buy the film again for a second time?!’
Is it any surprise then that, in a survey by Consumer Focus, the UK’s copyright laws were rated as ‘the worst, by far’ in a survey of 16 countries, beating the emerging economies of both Thailand and Argentina to last place?
Copyright laws need to change
It’s clearly time for the law, the music and the film industry to acknowledge that we should be able to format shift the content we’ve paid for. Hopefully the government will listen to Professor Hargreaves and move quickly to bring British law into the 21st century.
I’m not going to hold my breath – as an independent review, this report has no legal weight, meaning there’s no obligation for the government to act on any of its recommendations.
And it’s not even the first time we’ve seen some of these suggestions – the Gowers Review in 2006 also called for format shifting to be legalised but was ignored. Hopefully though, Hargreaves won’t be so easily dismissed.