UK Lawmakers Favor Legalization of MP3 and DVD Copying

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Earlier this year the UK Government promised to legalize the copying of MP3s, CDs and DVDs for personal use, but the changes have yet to pass. The entertainment industry and some lawmakers have voiced concerns over the plan, but the majority appears to be in favor of decriminalizing format shifting.

uk-flagTo most consumers it’s common sense that they can make a backup copy of media they own, but in the UK this is currently illegal.

Earlier this year the UK Intellectual Property Office proudly announced that these restrictions would be lifted this summer. After consulting various stakeholders the Government decided that it would be in the best interests of consumers to legalize copying for personal use.

“Copyright law is being changed to allow you to make personal copies of media you have bought, for private purposes such as format shifting or backup,” the UK’s Intellectual Property Office writes.

“The changes will mean that you will be able to copy a book or film you have purchased for one device onto another without infringing copyright.”

To communicate the changes to the public the Government released a consumer guide which stated the change would go into effect in June. However, when June came the most crucial changes were still pending Parliamentary approval.

What exactly delayed the process remains a mystery. Copyright lobbyists are likely to have become involved and late last month lawmakers were casting doubt over the entire plan.

According to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (JCSI) it is not clear whether the private copying exceptions are allowed under EU law if there’s no “fair compensation” for copyright holders.

“Only a court, and ultimately the CJEU, can give an authoritative ruling on whether the [EU Copyright] Directive precludes the private copying exception provided for in [the copying for personal use draft legislation] without the inclusion of a compensation scheme for rightholders adversely affected by the exception,” JCSI notes.

The Government previously concluded that compensation wasn’t needed since the changes would not result in any significant harm to copyright holders. However, the JCSI mentions that there are several stakeholders who disagree with this assessment.

Yesterday the new copying exceptions were discussed during a general committee debate. The overall consensus was that the current copyright regulations are too restrictive as they run counter to what millions of people are already doing.

“By criminalizing format shifting, we are potentially criminalizing 20 million people around the country who probably think they can do that already,” said Mike Weatherley MP, who’s also the Prime Minister’s Intellectual Property Advisor.

This opinion was shared by John Whittingdale MP who told the debate about his personal experiences with the issue.

“A long time ago I started transferring music that I purchased on one antiquated format — vinyl records — on to another antiquated format — cassette tapes — which I then played in my car. I was technically in breach of copyright law. Subsequently, I moved into the new age and transferred CDs that I had bought on to my iPod. I was still in breach of copyright law,” Whittingdale said.

This admission of criminality was met with laughter from the other lawmakers, which was telling for the issue at hand. None of the lawmakers appeared to view the criminal wrongdoing as a problem, yet it is under current law.

This mismatch between what’s morally accepted and what the law prescribes should be fixed according to Whittingdale.

“It is not good for the respect of law to give a message to consumers that it is fine to break some laws and not others. If the law is outdated and being widely ignored then it needs to change. That is why I welcome the private copying exception,” he said.

Minister David Willetts also responded to the doubts raised by JCSI. He confirmed that the European Court of Justice is the relevant legal authority in this case, but according to the legal experts that were consulted copyright holders don’t have to be compensated under the current regulations.

Willetts also waved away concerns about the potential losses the new regulations could cause to copyright holders. According to the Minister these concerns are unwarranted as the new rules clearly state that copies can only be made for personal use, so sharing with third parties remains illegal.

At the end of the hearing the current draft of the Copyright and Rights in Performances Regulations were passed, meaning that they are a step closer to becoming law.

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