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IPO confirms no current plans to revisit private copy exception

By | Published on Friday 27 November 2015


The music industry is getting more bad press on the tech sites this week after the Intellectual Property Office confirmed to that it currently has no plans to re-introduce the private copy exception into UK law. Which means copyright law will remain dumb on this point in this country for the foreseeable future.

As previously reported, UK copyright law is unusual in not allowing people who legitimately buy a sound recording to then make additional copies of said track for their own private use. Which means such private copies technically constitute copyright infringement, even though everyone has made such copies at some point or another, and no rights owner would ever sue someone who did so.

Following the Hargreaves Review of copyright rules in 2011, the government decided to introduce a so called ‘private copy exception’ into UK law, recognising that the lack of such an exception was damaging the credibility of the British copyright system.

The music industry opposed the government’s proposals, not because it objected to private copying in principle, but because elsewhere in Europe the music community receives financial compensation for the private copies behind made. UK ministers were proposing a levy-free private copy exception. The government argued that the UK exception would be much narrower than elsewhere in Europe, so no levy was required.

Having failed to win the argument in Parliament, the UK music industry took the matter to court once the private copy exception was live, claiming the government’s plans violated European law, because it had failed to meet its obligations in assessing whether or not a levy was necessary as a result of the new copyright exception. And the music industry won.

The entire private copy exception was abolished, with the government told to have good old rethink about how it might re-introduce the private copy scheme, either with a levy, or with better evidence as to why no levy was required. Since then, the government’s Intellectual Property Office hasn’t seemed in any mood to have such a rethink, and it recently told “The government is currently focusing its resources on the upcoming European copyright reforms, and does not intend to take further action on private copying at this time”.

Which makes the music industry’s win on this point something of a pyrrhic victory, in that it won’t get the levy income it demanded and UK copyright law is still without its private copy exemption. Outside the music community there is little sympathy for the idea of a private copy levy, and the concept has proven controversial elsewhere in Europe in recent years, as it became harder to work out what to apply the levy to (originally the levy was charged on blank cassettes).

The music community had an opportunity to score a PR victory here and boost the credibility of copyright – the thing the recording and publishing sectors rely on entirely – by telling the world that it recognised that the lack of a private copy right was dumb law and, as responsible copyright owners, they were going to get that fixed and ask for nothing in return.

Instead, the music industry is once again seen as a money-grabbing ungrateful bastard, and the tech brigade get further ammunition to back up their favourite nonsense statement that “copyright is not fit for purpose in the internet age”. So well done everybody. You know we have a sister company that does corporate reputation consultancy, right?