I've been reading a report about the UK Gower Report on Copyright. These things caught my eye.

Gowers wants to see a private copying exception written into copyright law. That was expected and will find no opposition from the UK music industry. Currently, copying from your own CD to your hard drive and MP3 player is infringement, though the music industry turns a blind eye. Gowers wants the law to reflect reality: "private copying should enable users to copy media on to different technologies for personal use," says the report.

So far so good.

What is more controversial is that Gowers sees no need for an accompanying copyright levy. In France, Germany and many other countries, private copying is allowed but compensated by a tax on blank media. The Copyright Directive says member states can choose to forbid private copying or allow it – provided there is fair compensation for right holders. Gowers believes that compensation can be won another way.

His report explains: "If rightholders know in advance of a sale of a particular work that limited copying of that work can take place, the economic cost of the right to copy can be included in the sale price. The 'fair compensation' required by the Directive can be included in the normal sale price."

Kim Walker, head of Intellectual Property with Pinsent Masons, said: "He's saying the price of CDs will go up."

It may be that music purchased as a download is less frequently burned to CD than music purchased as a CD is ripped to another device – so the price rise may not affect iTunes. Gowers also warns that any private right to copy "cannot be extended retrospectively as copies of works already sold would not include this 'fair compensation'."

Ooops! That's impossible to enforce. Either it's legal to copy to another format or it isn't. Applying it retrospectively or not doesn't work.

Walker said: "You can rip CDs bought after the law changes – which Gowers hopes will be by 2008. But you also need to pay to legalise your current collection."

The report states: "collecting societies may wish to consider making a single block licence available to allow consumers to format shift their back catalogues legitimately."

This is ridiculous! No way am I (or anyone else) going to buy a license to rip my old CDs to Mp3.

Walker says he could be deliberately provoking the music industry here. "Would it dare to hike the prices of CDs and blame this new right to make private copies?," said Walker. "Would it have the audacity to demand a lump of cash from each of us for the right to keep playing our existing collections of ripped music?"

And he knows it's ridiculous.

AIM, a trade body for independent music labels, criticised Gowers yesterday for his dismissal of levies. "The fact that these levies, across the board, may be judged to be working imperfectly and arguably may require some reform, rationalisation (possibly even replacement by some system which fulfils the objective more efficiently or imaginatively) does not detract from the essential justice of their existence," it said in a statement. It fears the change could open the floodgates to uncontrolled and unstoppable private copying and sharing from person to person, as well as format to format. "Once owned, however acquired, music will be passed on freely," said AIM.

I'm really quite surprised the AIM said this. I'd have thought they would understand better the natur eof the changes in the business. Apparently not and apparently they have the same attitudes as the BPI, RIAA et al.

Gowers addresses peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing, but sees no need for immediate changes to the law. Some have called for a new law to make those who facilitate P2P file-sharing liable for copyright infringement.

Gowers favours self-regulation. The ISP Association is encouraging ISPs and rights owners to cooperate on a Best Common Practice document that will address P2P abuse. Gowers sees this as a good way to change public attitudes and behaviours without court action. Only if there is a failure to agree would Gowers advocate new statutory controls.

Woah, Nelly. This is a slippery road that leads to problems with Net Neutrality. I'm vehemently against drawing the ISPs into this. I believe it's better for everyone if the ISPs are treated as common carriers and are not expected to police use of their networks. We already have plenty of law that allows an organisation (or the police) that believes a crime or copyright infringement is taking place to get a court to order an ISP to provide information. We do not need to turn the ISPs into the Police. But maybe this is what Gower is actually saying. We don't need new law. If the BPI and ISP associations reach a business agreement to control P2P, the government doesn't need to step in to force it. Our beef then moves (or stays) with the BPI and the ISPs and whatever deals they do.

This particular argument is extraordinarily difficult to have with otherwise intelligent people. Repeatedly, I get accused of supporting organised crime and counterfeiting when I question whether the ISPs should automatically give up information about their customers or turn off accounts on demand. We don't seem to be able to separate criminals selling counterfeit goods over the net and private individuals sharing for free via P2P.

But really, all this is moot. We'll all go on ripping our CDs to Mp3, buying from Russian sites, and passing the Mp3s to each other via thumb drive, portable hard drive, or DVD. All that activity is already extremely widespread and completely under the radar. The question is whether the law will be changed to recognise that we're all criminals now.

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[ 11-Dec-06 11:02am ] [ ]