Opinion

Copy that. You won’t go to jail

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on October 08, 2014 Published on October 08, 2014

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Really?

Hold on. I am talking about the laws in the UK.

You mean the Brits have made copying legal!

Yes, in a way. The UK has just enacted a law that allows its citizens to make copies of compact discs, MP3s, digital video discs, Blu-rays and e-books for personal use. In June this year, the Intellectual Property Office of the UK released a set of guidances, but these changes came into effect only last week. There are, of course, caveats. The government will allow consumers only to keep copies or back-ups only on local storage or in an online storage space (cloud); they will not be able to share these copies with friends or family members.

But can consumers rip a CD?

Yes, if the discs are not digitally protected from slicing. Making such copies including ripping CDs to iTunes earlier constituted copyright breach, even though not many were taken to task for such activities. That said, companies can protect their digital products using DRM tools. Digital Rights Management or DRM is a set of technologies that hardware and content makers and publishers use to control and safeguard the use of digital content.

The move to legalise rips has significance globally too. In July, a group representing musicians in the US, The Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies, sued Ford and General Motors over CD players installed in their cars that helped users rip and store tracks. Maybe, the US now can take a leaf from the UK law.

Interestingly, the UK has made it legal to change a purchased TV download, movie file or e-book from one format to another. For instance, you can convert your ripped ALAC or FLAC music or videos into .mp4 or any other formats you like. You can even change a .mobi (an e-book format that works on Amazon Kindle) into .epub, which most other tablets and reading devices support.

Wow. What about recording music that one streams online?

Don’t be greedy. When you stream online content from service providers such as Spotify and Netflix, you are actually enjoying content owned by someone else, which you cannot copy. Similarly, you cannot make copies of rented DVDs or Blu-rays.

What happens to the copy when I sell my original?

You should not keep those copies. But you can use parts of such works (clips) in parodies or spoofs.

The new UK law legalises parody of copyrighted works. Earlier, companies could sue you if you have used clips of films, television shows or songs without consent.

Are there others following the UK path?

Not many, actually. Similar rules are in vogue in countries such as the Netherlands and Spain. But the British government has taken a far more judicious approach to piracy and copying. Of course, piracy is a serious menace in the UK. An estimate from its regulator Ofcom shows in 2013 one in four downloads in the country was pirated. A few months ago, it introduced a voluntary copyright alert programme under which illegal downloaders will be alerted by the government of legal ways of getting the content, instead of outright punishments.

With the new set of rules, it expects to bring the country's IP laws “into the 21st century”, according to minister for IP, Baroness Neville-Rolfe. She says the new law will mean the UK IP regime will be responsive to the modern business environment and more flexible for consumers.

Impressive. So, where does India stand on this?

India, sadly, is moving at a snail's pace when it comes to modernising its copyright and intellectual property laws. Copying and similar activities are still illegal here and as things stand now it will be a while before our copyright laws are in sync with the times.

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Published on October 08, 2014
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