Monday, January 7, 2008

UK Proposal to make CD copying legal

Copying compact discs on to computers or iPods will become legal for the first time under government proposals to be published on Tuesday in a move that the music industry has warned could “open the floodgates” to further filesharing.

Millions of people already copy their favourite albums on to their MP3 players or computers without necessarily knowing that they are breaking the law. But this commonplace activity will no longer be illegal under the changes suggested by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

Lord Triesman, minister for intellectual property, will begin a consultation process which will end on March 7.

The existing laws dated back 20 years to the time of cassette tapes and VHS, said a government source. Under this legislation it is illegal for consumers to shift their music from one media to another – or even back up CDs on a blank disc.

In theory, record companies can at present sue for damages although in practice this is not likely.

The consultation will look at the viability of legalising such recordings as long as they are for personal use.

The Association of Independent Music, the industry group, has warned that the exception could open the floodgates to “uncontrolled and unstoppable” private copying and sharing from person to person.

Alison Wenham, chairman and chief executive of the AIM, said that the move could set a dangerous precedent. CDs would largely be redundant in five years, she predicted, but the new legislation would still remain and could be misused.

But Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry, another industry group, said he was broadly in favour of the changes because it would clarify the law for consumers. However, Mr Taylor said the government should ensure that the move would not “do harm to” the record industry.

The consultation will also look at wider intellectual property issues surrounding new media. These range from the legality of companies offering distance learning or online education to upload film or sound recordings. At present this is not easily done. The changes come at a time of upheaval in the industry where internet-based media are taking a growing share of the market from traditional providers of news, music and other entertainment.

The change of the rules regarding copying CDs does not necessarily mark a general retreat from a crackdown on bootlegging copyright material, however. It was one of the recommendations of the Gowers report into intellectual property laws by Andrew Gowers, former editor of the Financial Times.

But it was counterbalanced by Mr Gowers calling for harsher sentencing for online music and film pirates. One suggestion in his Treasury-commissioned report was that online piracy could be punished by prison sentences of up to 10 years instead of the current two-year maximum. This would bring the punishment into line with those convicted of trading in counterfeit CDs or DVDs.

Source [FT]

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