UK copyright law should be changed to include a ‘private right to copy’ that protects users of Apple iPod and other MP3 players, according to a new report published today by the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr). The UK’s current copyright laws mean that millions of Brits break the law each year when they copy their CDs onto their computers.
ippr says that the forthcoming review of Intellectual Property, set up by Chancellor Gordon Brown and chaired by Andrew Gowers, should update the 300-year-old copyright laws to take account of the changes in the way people want to listen to music, watch films and read books.

ippr recommends a legal ‘private right to copy’ that would allow people to make copies of CDs, or DVDs for personal us. The report says a new right would legalize the actions of millions of Britons without any significant harm to the copyright holders.

Dr Ian Kearns, ippr Deputy Director, said in a statement, “Millions of Britons copy CDs onto their home computers breaking copyright laws everyday. British copyright law is out of date with consumer practices and technological progress. Giving people a legal ‘private right to copy’ would allow them to copy their own CDs and DVDs onto their home computers, laptops or phones without breaking the law.”

“When it comes to protecting the interests of copyright holders, the emphasis the music industry has put on tackling illegal distribution and not prosecuting for personal copying, is right. But it is not the music industry’s job to decide what rights consumers have. That is the job of Government.”

The report, Public Innovation: Intellectual property in a digital age, also recommends that:

The Government should reject calls from the UK music industry to extend copyright term for sound recordings beyond the current 50 years. The report argues that there is no evidence to suggest that current protections provided in law are insufficient.

The Government should act to ensure that Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology does not continue to affect the preservation of electronic content by libraries. The British Library should be given a DRM-free copy of any new digital work and libraries should be able to take more than one copy of digital work. It also recommends that circumvention of DRM technology should stop being illegal once copyright has expired.

Current intellectual property law provides the owner of copyright in a work with the exclusive right to copy it ‘in any material form’. While exceptions to copyright do exist, for example copying for the purposes of research, reporting or parody, these apply only in special circumstances and only where a ‘reasonable proportion’ of the work is copied. What constitutes a reasonable proportion is not defined; however, it is not taken to cover copying a work in its entirety. The UK’s exceptions to copyright – so called ‘fair dealing’ provisions – do not include a private right to copy.

Songs purchased on the iTunes Store can be copied to an unlimited number of computers. However, only five computers at a time can play your purchased music. You can enable a computer to play your purchased music by “authorizing” it. You can remove a computer from the authorization list by “deauthorising” it. Deauthorizing your computer does not erase your music files; it simply prevents your purchased music from playing until you authorize that computer again.

The EU Copyright Directive gives scope to introduce a private right to copy: Article (38) Member States should be allowed to provide for an exception or limitation to the reproduction right for certain types of reproduction of audio, visual and audiovisual material for private use, accompanied by fair compensation.

More than half of British consumers are infringing copyright law by copying CDs onto other players they own, according to the National Consumer Council (NCC). NCC’s survey of consumer CD copying habits was conducted online by YouGov Plc (a member of the British Polling Council). A nationally representative sample of 2135 British adults, 18+, was interviewed between 10 and 12 April 2006. Results were weighted to the known profile of GB adults from the 2001 Census. The questions and responses were:

a) Do you ever copy CDs onto other equipment – for example your computer, iPod, or MP3 player?
Yes 55%
No 45%

b) Thinking about copying CDs to play on other equipment, which of the following do you think is true?
1. It’s perfectly legal to make copies of my CDs for my own use. Yes – 59%
2. It’s against the law to copy CDs for my own use. Yes – 19%
3. Don’t know – 21%

EU Copyright Directive requires a minimum term of 50 years for copyright on sound recordings in member states. There is currently harmonization across the EU. Outside the EU there are varying lengths of protection: e.g. USA (95 years), Mexico (100 years), Japan (70 years), Brazil (70 years), Turkey (70 years) and Colombia (80 years).

Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies can identify, describe and set rules using technological means. For example, DVDs and CDs can be watermarked. Watermarks are incorporated into the fabric of the content, and this mark follows the content when it is copied, however the copying occurred. Watermarks can be used to ensure that bootleg copies are unusable. A copied DVD can be recognised as illegal when the watermark does not match the number pressed onto the plastic of a DVD disk.

Encryption can be used to scramble content in order to make it unusable for unauthorised users unless they are in possession of the relevant code that can decipher the encrypted message.

DRM techniques are not new. The Serial Copy Management System was developed in the 1980s for use on CDs. It used copy control marks, which enabled digital copies to be made from the ‘master’ copy but not from subsequent copies. Region encoding, the system that prevents DVDs from being viewed in a region other than that in which they were released, has also existed for many years.

The full report, “Intellectual property in a digital age” by William Davies and Kay Withers (£9.95) is available here.