Music, Film Format Shifting To Be Legalised, But May Not Circumvent DRM

The UK government is about to decriminalise millions of music buyers who transfer their CDs to iPods and other devices. Though record labels don’t prosecute, format-shifting is currently illegal. But the UK Intellectual Property Office this morning published intellectual property minister Lord Triesman’s recommendations for acting on the digital copyright review former FT editor Andrew Gowers last year completed for Gordon Brown. The highlight is a proposal likely to please the 3,300 signatories of a 2006 Downing Street e-petition on the matter

– Triesman wants to add an exception to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to legalise “format shifting”, so that customers can copy material they legally own to any other device as long as playback is for personal use. “Survey results have shown that consumers would be willing to pay more for recorded music that they are able to format shift in contrast to recorded music they can only play back on a single device.”

– The proposal explicitly warns this excludes P2P file sharing and material can only be shifted to one device: “The owner would not be permitted to sell, loan, or give away the copy or share it more widely (for example in a ?le sharing system or on the internet), and would not be permitted to retain the copy if he was no longer in possession of the original. To allow consumers to copy works and then pass on the original could result in a loss of sales for right holders.”

– Fascinatingly, the paper says, the European Copyright Directive requires that consumers must not be prevented from benefiting from legal revisions such as these by DRM technologies. “Consequently, certain exceptions under UK law are accompanied by provisions to ensure that DRM does not prevent their operation.” However: “The exception would not confer any right to circumvent DRM or technological protection measures.” So it looks like the UK may rub against Europe’s conviction so consumers should be freed of DRM’s restrictions on which devices they can copy to.

– Third-party services would not be allowed to copy material “on behalf of consumers” – which might cause a problem for “digital locker” providers.

– Triesman is undecided on how far the format-shifting provision should extend beyond music and film, so has today put out a public consultation on the issue (deadline April 8). He does say “it seems reasonable to allow users to format-shift (TV) broadcasts”, books and photos but not video games, and notes that it might be permissable to extend the number of copies customers can make to overcome the hurdle of future format obsolescence.

Photo: Timothy Allen (some rights reserved)