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

Yes, but what does that actually mean?

"Copyright law is being changed to allow you to make personal copies of media you have bought for private purposes such as format shifting or backup," said a spokesperson for the UK Government's Intellectual Property Office (IPO), which is responsible for enforcing the Act. "The exception only applies to copies you have obtained legally, and it will be illegal to give other people access to the copies you have made."

This means that you could make a copy of a CD to play in the car or to rip the music on it to put into iTunes but you couldn't download a new copy of the album from the Pirate Bay - even if you already own it on CD, vinyl and cassette. You must make the copy yourself and you may not share it with anyone unless you delete all the copies you own.

One criticism of the revised Act is that, frankly, everyone sort of assumed this was ok anyway. Any serious music fan who owns a digital media player (and especially a high capacity device like an iPod Classic) would have to spend thousands on downloads to replicate their existing collections and has probably spent a good deal of time and hard drive space on converting CDs to MP3s already.

"Consumer surveys show that people do not realise this is currently illegal, and many people who know it is illegal do it anyway," said an IPO spokesperson back in May this year. "These changes are about improving clarity and respect for copyright by ensuring that consumers are not breaking the law when they carry out these everyday activities."

The changes won't just benefit music and film fans, however. As Jim Killock explains, business may benefit too. "The law will formalise what people have already been doing - for example copying CDs to their iPods, and that is one of the reasons that it is important that these right are established legally. [...]Cambridge manufacturer Brennan are forced to put warnings on adverts for their CD / MP3 converter to say that copying CDs for personal use is copyright infringement if you don't have permission from the copyright holder. So it will make a difference for how companies like this are able to market themselves."

Copy protection

One area that is sure to be contentious is copy protection. Although the amendments say that it will be legal to make personal copies, publishers can still enforce copyright protection through technology that it is (currently) illegal to circumvent.

Although it is rare to find a copy-protected CD these days, many DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are protected by copy protection countermeasures such as AACS encryption and ProtectDISC. EU law (adopted by the UK) makes it illegal to crack these protections, presenting would-be copiers with a legal quandary. These laws vary around the world so there is plenty of ripping software that will easily cut through copy protection, you just can't legally use it.

As Jim Killock puts it, "This is a particular problem for DVD owners and software developers such as the VLC project. As people's DVDs get old, they will want to make copies. The technology exists to do it but it's illegal to break the copy protection. The law does nothing to resolve this problem and it's a debate we're going to have to have on another day."

There is a sliver of hope built into the legislation, however. If you believe you are being unfairly prevented from making a personal copy of a work you can lodge an appeal.

"If they are too restrictive you may raise a complaint with the Secretary of State using the existing appeals process that has been in place for the past ten years. This process is open to individuals and representative bodies," says the IPO.


But your streamed music is still very much protected

What about streaming?

One important form of digital media that is not covered by the amendments is streaming. Any movies or music that you consume by a streaming service - such as Spotify albums, Netflix or Sky Go movies - is protected and cannot be legally copied.

If you are among the many people who have decided that streaming is more convenient than a shelf full of discs, this may be worth bearing in mind. You don't own the media you stream, even if you have paid a fee to watch or listen to it.

Cloud storage might seem like something of a grey area but the law will treat it as simply a place to store your personal copies. "If the person who stored the copies in the cloud shares access to them, they will be infringing copyright," according to the IPO, "But they would not be liable if [for example] a third party hacked their account."

The amendments to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act are, in the words of the Intellectual Property Office, "Small but important changes to copyright law to ensure it is fit for the digital age." In some areas they may seem like they have not quite caught up enough but perhaps this should be seen as a good start.

It has taken many years of lobbying by digital rights and consumer groups to allow exceptions to be made for personal use and the kind of fair use required by parodists and makers of pastiche and this has happened in the face of equally fastidious counter-argument by industry bodies and copyright maximalists.

You may have been quite happily making personal copies for years before these changes but at least now you can do so with a clear conscience and the groundwork has been laid for future revisions that may swing the pendulum further in the direction of consumers, while still allowing artists to benefit from their creations.