Copying CDs for personal use is now legal, but what does that mean for you?

Errr, this is all for personal use, right?

As of right now, copying CDs for personal use is no longer a crime in the UK. Changes to the UK's copyright laws mean that you can no longer be prosecuted for filling up your MP3 player with music you happened to buy in a different format, and taking backup copies of your favourite movies is not going to land you in hot water either.

Some of you may be aware that this was meant to have happened back in June but then, thanks in part to some aggressive lobbying by the entertainment industry, the Government appeared to get cold feet.

While happy to pass changes to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act that allowed data mining, copying for academic research and in order to make media more accessible (for example, creating audiobooks with text-to-speech software) the law continued to take a dim view of personal copying and those amendments were shelved, pending further review.

That 'further review' has now happened and the Government's Intellectual Property Office has been able to announce that it is to allow personal copying for the first time - but possibly several years too late.

This doesn't mean the end of copyright or a free-for-all for pirates, and consumers may not get quite the freedom to copy film and video that they may expect. So what will change under the new law and doesn't this just formalise something that was happening anyway?

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 set out the limits of copyright protection for intellectual property. If you are a copyright holder such as a filmmaker, musician or writer, a publisher or just a company that owns the rights to a published work then the Act can help make sure that you get paid and - just as important in many cases - that someone else can't come along and exploit your work.

'Fair dealing' exceptions are made for using snippets of work in reviews or an academic context as well as some provision for incidental use (such as a copyrighted photograph in the background of a film or music accidentally recorded in a news broadcast). What was definitely not allowed until this month was making an entire copy of a work for personal use or sharing copies, even on a non-commercial basis.

These protections have served copyright holders well but as legislation has not kept pace with changes in technology, change was almost inevitable. Buying albums again and again in different formats just to be able to keep playing them, and being barred from 'format shifting' media between different digital forms, seem to many like unnecessary restrictions.

"The groups lobbying on behalf of rights holders are very powerful with international political influence," says Jim Killock or digital rights campaigners the Open Rights Group, "but they have pushed an extreme and unsustainable view opposing parody and data mining and insisted upon an 'iPod tax' in return for format shifting. The government has agreed to modest but important changes despite heavy lobbying but you have to wonder whether copyright lobbyists' credibility may have been dented by their extreme position."

What's changed?

The changes to the Copyright Design and Patents Act implemented in June and those agreed this month take the form of five 'statutory instruments'.

Four of these add provisions for making copies of existing works. These apply to public administration (to allow for easier discussion of a work by a public body), for use in research, making an accessible version for use by someone with a disability and simply for personal use. All of these include the concept of 'format shifting' for the first time so that you can take a film or a piece of music that you can only play on one device and make it usable on another - turning a CD into an MP3, for example.

A fifth amendment makes it legal to use copyrighted material for caricature, parody or pastiche as well as clarifying the use of quotations.

Cd burning

Copying a friend's CD is still a no-no