UK finally makes it legal to copy music to your iPhone

UK finally makes it legal to copy music to your iPhone

Summary: The House of Lords has approved a long overdue copyright 'exception', making it legal to copy content for personal use.


A small change to the UK's copyright laws has finally made it legal for Brits to do what they've most likely been doing for a decade — copying a CD to MP3 format.

As ridiculous as it sounds, until this week it has been illegal for British citizens to copy a CD that they own and put it on their iPhone. That changed with an announcement by the UK's Intellectual Property Office that Parliament had approved new "exceptions" to copyright, making it legal for consumers to copy music, books, film and photographs, so long as it's for private use.

They'll also be able to legally use copyright material for parody without the permission of the copyright holder, but "only to the extent that the use is fair and proportionate".

The update followed similar copyright exceptions that came into effect this June for libraries, education, research, disabled people and public bodies.

A more modern copyright system in the UK has been on the agenda for nearly a decade, with no fewer than four reviews since 2006 recommending changes that reflect the reality of digital technology.

The last government-commissioned review in 2011 by Ian Hargreaves stopped short of recommending the US' more flexible 'fair use' system since it would put the UK out of kilter with EU law; however, making it legal to "format-shift" and use content for parody, both of which are legal in Europe, would achieve a similar effect.

Copyright reform campaigner the Open Rights Group, notes there are some limitations of the exceptions, including that it doesn't make it legal for consumers to share works with anyone. Also, it's still not OK to remove digital rights management (DRM) protections. It does however allow consumers to keep copies of their music in private cloud services.

"Given most media consumption is moving to a pure digital environment constrained by such measures, it remains to be seen how effective the new right will be in practice. How many people will be ripping CDs in ten years time?," wrote Open Rights Group's policy director, Javier Ruiz.

Another issue that could crop up in future the prospect of a levy being charged on digital media devices, as is the case in France, where consumers pay a €15 levy on MP3 players.

Fortunately for Brits, the current government is not in favour of imposing a levy on devices. "The government do not believe that British consumers would tolerate private copying levies," said Conservative Baroness Neville-Rolfe.

"They are inefficient, bureaucratic and unfair, and disadvantage people who pay for content. That is why the Government's exception is narrow in scope. It will not allow you to give or sell copies to others, and therefore will not lead to lost sales to copyright owners, making the need for a levy unnecessary."

The UK government could however be forced to introduce such a levy, according to Ruiz, but only if a rightsholder can prove they have suffered losses. 

"Copyright holders will be looking for any evidence of losses to take the UK government to court in Europe to force a new tax, possibly on cloud services," Ruiz noted.

Read more on copyright

Topics: Government UK, Legal, Piracy, EU, United Kingdom

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Very amusing!

    As a Brit, I can say with absolute certainty that I have not encountered one person who was aware of this law. I think we all knew the EU allowed format changes for some time and thought it applied directly to us!

    It's kind of interesting isn't it that there hasn't been one case of apple or microsoft or sony or zen or anyone else getting in trouble for making software and devices explicitly for the purpose of turning a CD based track into a digital track and then copying it over several devices. Although well done House of Lords for making a decision so long after the fact it just doesn't matter anymore. Seriously apple are the only people making not bad MP3 players anymore!

    Interesting point - how did/does apple's iTunes Match service factor in?
    • More to the point

      Even more to the point, I've yet to come across a person who even cared whether this was legal or not....
  • So it was only illegal to copy music to iPhones?

    But it was perfectly ok to do so to a Galaxy s5 or HTC One? Or is it just that you have such a fetish for the iPhone that in your opinion its the only phone that matter?
    A Gray
    • Indeed

      With latest stats showing Android at 85% market share, how low will iOS's have to be before tech bloggers no longer consider it focus of everything?
      • Tech Bloggers?

        Even App developers know that iOS is where it's at. App developers, web site developers, and anyone else with knowledge knows that iOS trumps Android. Maybe not in sheer number of users, but that number is very deceiving.
        • I'll bet you were a Betamax user.

        • iwasn't aware

          That the question of superiority had been raised!
          "and anyone else with knowledge knows that iOS trumps Android" Opinion and nothing else.
          The point raised was referring to the article suggesting that IOS is the only format that is affected by the ruling ( or that IOS is the only format that Zdnet readers care about.
  • Music support

    In the iPhone, music is a first class citizen.

    No developer of anything having to do with audio would put together an app without giving due consideration as to how this would affect their music listeners.

    On Android, music is a check mark item.

    Browses web: check.
    Connects to email server: check.
    Has HD display: check.
    Has NFC radio: check.
    Plays music, check.
    Has barometer: check.
    • You know you sound like a doofus

    • I will grant you

      That by and large android devices are sold more like PC's (xgb ram, xgb storage, x mega pixels, blah blah blah) and that the OEMs have been responsible for some flipping aweful tat at the lower mid range of the pricing spectrum due to wanting to 'fit a price point' with stats.


      That's not to say all android smartphones are made this way, and the OS in particular has no issues what so ever? It's actually easier to manage music on android because there is no itunes!

      Not all android devices are equal - htc have made a series of devices with very high quality speakers for a mobile that definitely outplay the iphone (I have a htc one and an iphone 5) and the new commers to the low end are really shaking up what you can get for your money - moto g, asus zenphone 5, etc.

      First time I tried a moto G, I genuinely questioned the logic of paying 5x the price for the top spec phones from samsung or apple.
      • Whatever Fan Boy

        You can't make a blanket statement about iTunes. In some ways it's easier to manage music on Android and I know because I have owned Galaxy S2, HTC Amaze and other Android handsets.

        I place the CD in my 27" iMac and it will rip the CD for me and add to to my iTunes collection. I plug in my iPhone and the music gets synced automatically. In this regard, music management is actually easier with iOS. With Android I have to open a program to rip the CD, then drag and drop the files to the Android device.
        • How quaint

          You use CD's for your music.

          Over here in the present, we open an app which allows direct play or download to device.
          Little Old Man
        • "I have to open a program to rip the cd"

          Like itunes??


          Look, here's the thing - I'm in my thirties and so don't much care about the teenage fan wars, but since you resorted to personal attack, I should probably point out right away that I have an iphone - an iphone 5, and an android, a HTC one. The one is my contract, the iPhone is my work device.

          I've had an iphone since October 2008, and an android device as well sinse 2011.

          Here's the itunes system - plug cd into imac (or external SuperDrive if new imac) rip music into itunes. Select music. Sync.

          Here's the htc one system - plug cd into imac (or any computer or OS (as a linux admin apple aren't massively helpful with my work phone) ) open a music application (windows media player, vlc, Clementine, banshee, Amarok) select the music, and sync.

          See? The process was the same. Actually if you are a linux user like me it's a lot easier as I don't have to root my android phone (I'd have to jailbreak ios to manage music on linux and I don't jailbreak) you can also use a huge amount of applications to achieve it, or the devices own software.

          What about formats? What if you want to play music other than AAC encoded? Well on my iphone I can install the vlc app, but I can only put music in it by connecting to itunes and adding files to the vlc app in itunes.

          There's nothing to defend here. If you use 100% apple, the iphone is incredibly easy, just as if you use windows phone (I had a 520 and 720) and only MS windows, office and music apps it's flawless.

          If you want to use different apps, OS, file types and encoding (.flac?) then android is of course easier. In standard operation the are the same?

          My original point that music is not a second class citizen on android stands, for my htc one can play flac, my iphone can't without help. I can transfer my music straight from a non apple editing app (pro use) to my htc one, my iphone needs it converted first, and my htc one has better speakers and loudspeaker quality than my iphone.

          There are areas that the iphone massively excels - like security, and areas android excels - like customisation. Fortunately, unlike your "fanboy" generation, I don't have to choose, just the right tool for the job.