UK.gov makes total pig's ear of attempt to legalise home CD ripping

Failure to cough up gets new law torn apart in court


The UK's inability to introduce a private copying copyright exception legally and fairly means home taping, ripping CDs and so on will remain technically illegal in the UK.

The obstacle to sorting out British law in this regard is the government's insistence that it can fix the quirk without offering any sort of compensation to rights holders.

This was never likely to pass the courts, but nonetheless the state has run up a hefty legal bill on the taxpayers' behalf trying unsuccessfully to get it through - probably in the order of some hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Last year, the UK government legislated to bring in the long-overdue EU exception allowing individuals to make private copies of legally-bought media, such as songs on CDs.

The exception has been available since the InfoSoc Directive (paragraph 35) was approved in 2001.

Most European countries took advantage of the exception and introduced it years ago. The directive states that compensation of some kind must accompany the introduction of the exception, but it doesn't say what kind.

The British government decided to ignore this by introducing format shifting without compensation of any kind. Almost all European member states who have brought in the exception complied with the directive by paying a token amount into a fund, or applying a levy.

The UK's failure to do so prompted an application for judicial review from composers society BASCA, the Musicians Union, and umbrella group UK Music. In June, Mr Justice Green agreed with the rights holders, saying the government's evidence base was so flimsy it didn't support its insistence on no-compensation.

On Friday, Mr Justice Green added a supplementary opinion to his earlier judgment, in which the Secretary of State confirmed that the UK government is withdrawing the failed law, rather than racking up further expenses for the taxpayer. What will happen now remains to be seen.

Quite apart from this botched legislation and its expenses, the British government had already spent a small fortune on research seeking to justify its preferred policies. This research was scarcely solid: one report commissioned by the government found its results "puzzling", but it was submitted as evidence anyway.

The way the government went about introducing the exception is the final legacy of a long-running reign of error at the UK Intellectual Property Office (the old Patent Office), which earned the nickname "the Intellectual Property Obliteration" office. Much of this occurred under the direction of the former UK copyright czar Ed Quilty, who remained at the IPO for an exceptionally long six year posting; civil servants normally change jobs much more often than this.

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