If a law was passed to forbid breathing, it could hardly cause a more universal criminalisation of the western world than the laws of music copyright. Current law makes thieves of most of us and liars of the rest. We all know that each time you plug your iPod into the iTunes library of your painstakingly ripped CD collection, a fairy dies, but what harm can it really do if you already own legitimate versions of the CDs you've ripped, and these are stacked inertly on a dusty shelf?
With this logic in mind, an influential UK think tank is proposing a 'private right to copy', which would give UK citizens the right to duplicate CDs and DVDs for personal use. In the report, the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) calls for explicit laws legalising practises like the ripping of CDs onto iPods.
The report, 'Public Innovation: Intellectual property in a digital age', goes further than this and advocates turning copyrighted material of every description over to the public domain because, "The open teaching and circulation of knowledge in this environment produces a skilled and educated workforce".
The writers argue that in releasing currently copyrighted data that the government itself holds the rights to, the estimated benefit to the UK economy would be £11.2bn. The report also advises the government to resist the music industry's appeals for any advance on the current 50-year limit of copyright for sound recordings. The report notes that "it is not the music industry's job to decide what rights consumers have. That is the job of Government".
The current laws on music copyright date back over 300 years -- that makes them 83 years older than the US constitution.The original legislators did not anticipate the iPod, nor the demons and pimps of the record industry who strap copyright laws to the backs of consumers and ride them around in a kind of sick rodeo.
We were unable, however, to dredge up any news stories that described someone being prosecuted for ripping CDs to their iPod, or copying a DVD for a friend. While modern UK law may criminalise millions, it doesn't seem to have the bald stupidity required to pounce on every violator. Any revision of copyright controls would be a welcome move, but it's unlikely to have any practical implications other than giving former 'pirates' the fuzzy warm feeling that comes of absolution. -CS