UK finally makes it legal to copy music to your iPhone

The House of Lords has approved a long overdue copyright 'exception', making it legal to copy content for personal use.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

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.

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