UK urged to update copyright law to decriminalize Apple iPod users

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 British copyright law is out of date with consumer practices and technological progress.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.


  1. “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.”

    Heh, that means that Elvis’ first recordings will be public domain this year and that the Beatle’s recordings will start entering the public domain in 6 years. Paul and Yoko, better sign-on to iTunes while there’s still money to be made.

  2. There are lots of reasons to extend copyright laws forever.

    Why should YOU be able to listen to Rudy Vallee without paying his estate for the privilege?

    Why should YOU listen to Alma Gluck without paying Efrem Zimbalest Jr. and Stephanie Zimbalist?

    Why should YOU listen to Davey Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, without paying Disney, so those hard workers at the ABC television network can pay their mortgages, and Steve Jobs and Al Gore won’t need to go on the dole?

    Wow! Just think of what might happen if the Bert Ambrose catalogue is free to everyone. It would be chaos, total chaos, a world no one would want to live in.

  3. Extend copyright laws forever? That’s utterly ridiculous. The public good is enhanced when ideas (be they patents, songs, paintings, books, etc) eventually pass into the public domain. Should William Shakespeare’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-nephew still be able to collect royalties on Bill’s sonnets, plays, and words? Should Ludwig von Beethoven’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-neice still be able to collect royalties on Ludwig’s sonnets, plays, and words? Should the Catholic Church collect a royalty on every copy of the Bible printed or every reproduction of The Last Supper that is printed?

    That said, there needs to be a reasonable period of time for copyright, and it should be standardized across the world. It would suck if Paul McCartney’s best work passed into the public domain while he and Ringo still walk this earth.

    Lifetime of the artist plus essentially the lifetime of the artist’s children makes eminent sense for books, music, and movies. Some say less as children should not suck off the teat of their parent’s efforts.

  4. There is copyright and there is fair use. If I buy a DVD movie, why can’t I rip it and watch it on my iPod or my laptop?

    Copyright terms will always get longer because the companies that hold the copyrights never die. Mickey Mouse will never be in the public domain.

  5. I think it should be left exactly as it is – copyright has evolved into an absurd mechanism, and attempting to fix some of it’s more clearly stupid characteristics without a complete overhaul is like putting new paint on rotten wood.

    I think the original 14 year term was about right.

  6. When over one-half UK consumers are violating the existing law, it is worth asking if the law is unenforceable and irrelevant. If the answer is yes, then repeal or change the law. If the answer is no, then the state has to provide justification for the continued existence of the law and explain what it plans to do if 50% of its citizens are habitual criminals.

  7. Them damned British are breaking the law! How dare they copy their CD’s onto their computers. They all should be put away in jail. Put them on a island where they cannot escape… oh wait, they already are. So there!

  8. Logical Argument: Copyrights and all intellectual property law exist under a false premise: that humans need incentive and protections in order to create art and invent new technology.

    Capitalist Argument: The free market would demand that all parties have an equal playing field in any market competition.

    Socialist Argument: No idea is an island. Every “new” idea is born from a common cultural heritage and a common contemporary market of ideas.

    Darwinian Argument: Humans copying other human behavior or ideas is a sign of success.

    Mom’s Argument: Share, dammit!

    Hippy Argument: You can’t copyright pot, dude, that’s why it’s illegal.

    Geezer Argument: Get offa my lawn!

  9. It’s all silly anyway. Think about this for a minute.

    If a landscape gardener creates someone a beautiful garden why should the person and all of their friends or friends friends pay him some cash every time they wanted to video it or take a photo of it?

    At some point the person’s work has grown in value exponentially. Now lets say a music artist took three weeks solid to write the lyrics to a new track. If he gets royalties for 50 years on that track at say 10p and sold an average of 30,000 copies per year (not unreasonable). That would make him £150,000.00 for just one track over the 50 year period.

    Now remember it took three weeks to write and record so lets say that’s 100 hrs for arguments sake it would be an hourly rate of £1,500 per hour. That’s a stupid hourly rate and the artist didn’t have to do three years at Uni to get where he was to achieve that rate.

    Basically If you sell something that is tangible there is a cost involved and extra work in reproducing it so it’s fair to keep profiting from it (like CD’s for example) but just to get paid money for the same work over and over again and expecting people to have to pay for the same song again just because they need it in a different format is pathetic and basically just plain greedy. I call it extortion!!!!

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