UK Group Pushes for More Open Copyright Laws

Existing copyright laws in the United Kingdom are out of date and should be updated to provide consumers with more flexibility, including the right to copy the content on DVDs and CDs to portable players, a new report argued.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) issued a report Sunday saying that copyright laws should be amended to create what it calls a “private right to copy.” The change would reflect the growth of digital media, most of which has occurred since such laws were last amended, the group says.

Breaking the Law

“Millions of Britons copy CDs onto their home computers breaking copyright laws everyday,” said Dr. Ian Kearns, the deputy director of IPPR. “British copyright law is out of date with consumer practices and technological progress.”

The music and movie industries have taken the right approach to date, according to Kearns, by not pursuing those who illegally copy their own music but instead tackling the problem of illegal distribution of copyright-protected works.

The group also expressed concern that digital rights management (DRM) technology could infringe on the ability of libraries and other public institutions to retain and allow access to digital works in the long-term.

The report interjects a new point of view into the ongoing debate over copyright, and its applicability in a rapidly changing digital world. The music and movie industries have been aggressive in their pursuit of those who swap digital files without authorization, while having only recently begun to embrace digital distribution channels.

Rip and Burn

Of course, the practice of “ripping” CDs to create digital files to be played on iPods, other portable music players and on PCs themselves, is a widespread approach to building out music collections, with literally millions of tracks having been transferred to portable devices through so-called “format shifting.”

With a growing number of video-capable players hitting the market, analysts widely expect the trend to be followed for movies and TV shows.

The report, “Public Innovation: Intellectual Property in a Digital Age,” also recommends that the UK government ignore requests from the music industry to extend the copyright term beyond the current 50-year period. “There is no evidence to suggest that current protections provided in law are insufficient.”

It also calls for unspecified government action to ensure that UK libraries are given DRM-free copies of digital works, and suggests that DRM technology should become void and legally be broken once the copyright protecting the work expires.

Changing Formats

The battle over copyright protection using DRM continues to rage, with the same teen hacker who broke the code protecting DVDs from being copied — earning him the nickname DVD Jon — saying recently he had reverse engineered the iPod, enabling it to be opened up to play songs that weren’t downloaded from the iTunes Music Store and aren’t protected with the Apple endorsed DRM, known as “FairPlay.”

The report also comes as the music industry begins to rethink the future of the CD, a technology that is now more than 20 years old — somewhat long in the tooth for a music-bearing format, given the short life expectancy of the 8-track tape, for instance.

Music label executives in the UK have stated publicly they wouldn’t pursue consumers who copied their own music onto their computers and other devices, said JupiterResearch analyst Mark Mulligan.

“Still, the fact remains the law needs changing,” he added.

The industry is also looking for ways to have CDs do more than just deliver music, with added features starting to appear in more compact discs and likely to become an industry standard before long, as the industry tries to keep consumers buying the format.

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