Consumer rights activists are increasingly confident that Britain will update its outdated copyright laws to include “fair-use” exemptions for digital media.
With the Government awaiting the results the the Hargreaves Review into its intellectual property laws, campaigners and industry figures have been calling for changes in copyright to better reflect new technology.
Among the most crucial potential changes for digital media consumers is to the much criticised format shifting laws that brand anyone copying CDs to their hard drive, for example, a criminal.
“As it stands you only have the right to back-up computer software, and the backing up of music, eBooks or video is illegal,” said Saskia Walzel, policy advocate for rights group Consumer Focus.
“The fact that format shifting is illegal makes copyright law nonsensical and that has to change.“
Format shifting would make it lawful to burn CDs to a hard drive, and copy them onto iPods, which is currently a no-no under copyright laws.
Walzel was on the panel of House of Commons meeting of the Digital Economy All Party Political Group, where the members reached widespread agreement that format shifting should be allowed under copyright law.
Rights holder agreement
According to Walzel and other sources at the meeting, even rights holders accept the need for change – with the previously hardline record industry group the BPI apparently relaxing its stances.
“In theory you are supposed to buy a separate version of a song targeted at the different media,” said Timico technology officer Trefor Williams, who was also at the meeting, in a blog post. “Even copyright hardliner the BPI has apparently relaxed its stance on this.”
The BPI was unavailable for comment. It had previously called for a levy on hardware to make up for sales losses from a law change were unavailable for comment.
If the tone of the meeting is reflected across the industry, as Walzel believes, the message will have been heard by both Ian Hargreaves, the academic putting the review together, and members of parliament.
“The panel event was about putting these opinions, which were held by most of the people present, including copyright owners, in front of parliamentarians for debate,” Walzel said.
“We've been calling for format shifting and other fair-use rights in copyright law since 2009 and have reiterated our demands in our meeting with Professor Hargreaves and our submission to the review. The meeting was another step in getting the message across.”
The Hargreaves Review is set to shake up the intellectual property landscape in the UK when it is published in April or early May.
With widespread support for format shifting, and a possible change of heart from rights holder groups, the change is expected to be one of Hargreaves' 10 key recommendations and could come into law this year.
Representatives at the meeting said that it was not only would consumers benefit from a change to the format shifting rules, but UK businesses offering hardware and services that transfer files from one media to another.