BY GLYN MOODY
The UK’s 2014 private copying exception, which allowed you to make personal copies of your own music, including format-shifted versions, has now been definitively withdrawn, according to The 1709 Blog. As a result, it is once more illegal to make personal backups of your own music, videos or e-books, rip CDs and DVDs to standalone digital files, or upload your music to the cloud.
The UK’s new private copying exception had been in a state of legal limbo following a judicial review of the legislation in June, which had been sought by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, the Musicians’ Union, and UK Music. In his review, the High Court judge mostly found in favour of the UK government, except for one crucial aspect. He said the UK government’s decision to bring in the new copyright exception was “flawed” because “the evidence relied upon to justify the conclusion about harm was inadequate/manifestly inadequate.”
This left the UK government with three options. It could carry out further research to prove more rigorously that copyright holders would not suffer from the introduction of this personal copy exception, in which case the law could stand; it could repeal the relevant section of the law; or it could introduce a compensation scheme. In the end, it decide to throw up its hands and withdraw the private copyright exception completely.
As The 1709 Blog points out: “Those users who are aware of the changes face a difficult decision: whether to make copies for personal use in contravention of the law in the reasonably sure knowledge that they won’t get caught, or abide by the law and deny themselves a degree of sensible flexibility in their viewing and listening choices.” But it also notes: “One thing they will not do is go out and buy a digital replacement such as a download, for a CD or DVD they already own.”
In other words, killing the personal copying exception will bring the music industry very little financial benefit, while turning the UK public into scofflaws for making backup copies, format-shifting or uploading music to the cloud. And as The 1709 Blog points out, it’s not as if the music industry is going to use the fact that the exception has been withdrawn to pursue anyone caught doing any of these things: “I think it is fair to say that they will, privately, continue with their old policy of not seeking to sue or prosecute anyone for personal format shifting. To do otherwise would undoubtedly alienate the buying public and strengthen the argument that the record labels are out of touch with what music fans want.”
By insisting on a judicial review of this long-overdue and extremely limited copyright exception, which in any case only legalised what everyone was already doing, the music industry has certainly shown itself to be quite indifferent to what its customers want. But more importantly, it has confirmed that copyright itself is no longer fit for the digital age.