UK looks to crack down on piracy, free up formats

Written by Brett Thomas

December 6, 2006 | 15:52

Tags: #copyright #mpaa

Companies: #riaa #uk

New legislation could soon be appearing in the UK that modernises its treatment of digital works. In a pre-budget statement, the results of a recent report are being turned into a proposed legal modification that clearly defines and expands fair use. The trade-off? It also makes true 'piracy' a much more serious offense.

The report, known as the Gowers Report, was commissioned by the UK government in an effort to help modernise copyright law in the digital age. Current law has been found to be far too nebulous in respect to what does and does not constitute a consumer's right to use purchased media, allowing both sides to take advantage in a war over who owns the content.

One of the biggest recommendations that affects consumers is the expansion and clear definition of "fair use." The actual "Fair Use" doctrine is part of US copyright law, but the EU has a similar policy laid out with "Fair Dealings." You can read up on it in our article on DRM law.

Currently, you are entitled only to make one backup in the same format as the original. The new alteration would make format changes perfectly legal and acceptable, so copying CDs to MP3 format to back-up your music or play it on your iPod would be ok. This also means you can back up DVDs to your hard drive, remove advertisements, etc. Though it's not specifically outlined, format changes also imply that removing DRM from content you legally purchased would also be acceptable.

To balance this, the law is much more stringent on actual distribution of that digital content. Piracy would be defined as an act of intentional distribution (or receipt of), and would carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years. In order to help enforce this, the report recommends budgeting an extra £5 million for Trading Standards officers to devote to piracy.

So overall, the law gives a little and takes a little. The increased prison sentences might make people think twice of torrenting their music collections. On the other hand a person's right to what he or she bought will be increased enough that piracy might be less of a problem overall.

What do you think about the possible law? Tell us your thoughts in our forums.
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