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On Behalf of | Aug 21, 2015 | Wang IP Law Blog

Private copying refers to when consumers pay for copyrighted material in one format and shifts the format from one medium to another. Nowadays, ripping music from a CD and converting the audio files into other forms is common practice. Consumers assume that because they already paid for the copyright material, they are allowed to make other copies for personal use. In the United Kingdom, the practice of private copying was illegal until October 2014 when the British Government introduced a private copying exception.

Private Copying Exception

The private copying exception allowed consumers of copyright material to make copies for their personal benefit. For example, ripping music from a CD to MP3 or burning a CD was made legal due to the exception. However, this change was short lived as various UK music groups argued over the financial losses caused by the exception. Copyright owners feared that by allowing consumers to make copies of music for personal use, they would suffer a loss of income. Many major music industry stakeholders in the UK, including the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, and the Musicians Union, applied for a Judicial Review of the government decision.

The High Court of Justice – which acts as the Supreme Court of Britain – overturned the copyright exception on July 17th. As a result, all acts of private copying in the UK are now considered as infringement. The IPO explicitly stated that copying a CD to an MP3 player would not be permitted and is considered infringement. The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) released a statement explaining, “It is now unlawful to make private copies of copyright works you own, without permission from the copyright holder-this includes format shifting from one medium to another.” The copyright exception was overturned to protect the interests of copyright holders.

The High Court decided that private copying had too many consequences for copyright owners and therefore the exception was unlawful. The UK Government is not happy with the decision of the High Court and is deciding whether or not to it will propose other copyright exception laws in the future.

Legal Implications

The overturning of the private copying exception will cause a huge problem to Apple. The company promotes their CD ripping functionality as one of the main benefits of the music application, iTunes. Apple could potentially face significant claims for damages from copyright holders.

The law bans more than just CD to MP3 conversions. Consumers are no longer allowed to convert any type of copyrighted materials in any medium. Simply storing a backup copy of copyrighted files in a hard drive is also considered illegal. Even though it is unlikely, one could be taken to court for backing up the music from their iTunes.

What does this mean for consumers? If a consumer buys a song from iTunes, they cannot burn the song onto a CD, or transfer the music from a computer to a phone. Under the new law, consumers must purchase different formats of an artist’s work to be able to listen to music in different mediums. In the event that a person’s computer crashes, the only option to recover lost music or other copyrighted material is to repurchase them.

Copyright holders have suggested allowing private copying in exchange for placing a tax on blank CDs and hard drives. Although it is considered to be against the law, the UK has never come across a case in which a copyright owner prosecuted individuals for changing the format of their music, or backing up their files for personal use.