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put them in your earsThe Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has called for outdated copyright laws to be rewritten to take account of new ways people listen to music, watch films and read books.

Just to make things perfectly clear, it’s worth pointing out that if you’ve been ripping your CDs to your computer — or carrying around music that you only ever bought as a CD on your portable player — the major record labels will make a case that you are breaking the law. Whether they’re right or not’s another matter — but it’s an astonishing idea: that it is unlawful to use your iPod according to its manufacturer’s instructions.

The process is called ‘format shifting’: taking something in one form, and converting it to another for your own convenience. When you rip a CD to your computer, that’s what you’re doing.

From the BBC News article:

According to research from the National Consumer Council, more than half of British consumers are infringing copyright law by copying CDs onto their computers, iPods or other MP3 players. Report author Kay Withers said: “The idea of all-rights reserved doesn’t make sense for the digital era and it doesn’t make sense to have a law that everyone breaks. To give the IP regime legitimacy it must command public respect.”

Now, it’s worth mentioning that the idea that format shifting might be illegal is a contestable one. Something is only illegal if there exists a piece of legislation specifically forbidding it. Major record labels contend that existing laws should be interpreted in a way that would categorise turning your privately owned CD collection into mp3s an unlawful act — but they’re funny that way.

The problem is, because the copyright laws were written for an age that predated widespread ease of digital format shifting, they are not particular clear on this matter. Of course, the labels would argue that with every new technology comes an automatic expansion of their entitlement (though perhaps they wouldn’t express it in those words).

In fact, copyright law is completely broken and has been for some time. I’m with the IPPR here: can we get new and better laws please?

And this time, can the laws be written in favour of the public interest and good of the many, rather than the powerul lobbying interests of the corporate few?

That’d be great, thanks.

Read the full report.