UK - Adapting to new(ish) media

Most people living in the UK aren’t aware, or don’t care, that transferring or ‘format shifting’ media from one format to another is against the law. Examples of this would be ripping a DVD, or writing a CD containing legal music downloads.

Although no-one has been prosecuted under this law, it means every day people have to break the law to get the entertainment they want, in format they want (PC, portable media player, etc.) In some other countries, including the USA, format shifting is not explicitly forbidden as it is in the UK and is generally assumed to be legal.

This problem of format shifting has been discussed on and off for years by various people, but no headway appears to have been made, so the UK continues to be behind the curve in changing copyright laws to fit the modern day. Hopefully this latest report for the government pushes this issue into the spotlight and gets the attention it deserves. It seems that the UK government is finally coming around to the need to change the law in regards to format shifting of media content after being under pressure from the public to change the law. Unfortunately, there also seems to be pressure in the opposite direction from established businesses and organisations that seek to keep that things as they are.

There have been reports in the past (like the Gowers Review) that advocated allowing format shifting, to give people freedoms that citizens from other countries already enjoy, but over half of the recommendations Gowers put forward, less than half of them have been implemented.

The newest review of Intellectual Property (IP) law, titled the Hargreaves Review, also advocates making format shifting legal, but does not go as far as to also recommended other freedoms such as ‘fair use’. The report eventually goes on to say:

5.31 The Government should introduce an exception to allow individuals to make copies for their own and immediate family’s use on different media. Rights holders will be free to pursue whatever compensation the market will provide by taking account of consumers’ freedom to act in this way and by setting prices accordingly.

From Page 53 - Digital Opportunity: A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth

Hopefully if this exception is put into law, prices for music, video and other media will not increase in the future, as this practice of format shifting already goes on today and a reduction in revenues cannot be attributed to this exception being made law. Unfortunately, the reality is that we can probably expect a price hike, even if it’s only slight.

The recommendations of the Hargreaves report may hopefully open the door to further reforms of intellectual property law in the future and bring the UK to a place that better reflects how media and other content covered by copyright and intellectual property law are used.