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What Did The UK Accomplish In Revoking The Right To Rip CDs After Just One ...
A little history: In 2011, after quite a bit of study, the so-called Hargreaves Report was released in the UK, with some fairly mundane suggestions on how copyright law in the UK could be updated for the 21st century. One of the key suggestions? Admit that it was legal to rip your own CDs to MP3s, which everyone had simply assumed to be the case anyway. Of course, it took over three years for that to actually be implemented. However, back in August of 2014, the UK finally made it officially legal to rip CDs (of course, in the intervening three years, fewer and fewer people even bothered to buy CDs any more, but, details...). Then, less than a year after that happened, we noted that the UK's high court stripped away that right after the record labels protested. The court ruled that private ripping of CDs "harms" the recording industry and thus, couldn't be allowed. The court left open the possibility that perhaps the UK government might find a workaround, but the UK's Secretary of State told the court it was fine with killing the law anyway -- and thus, on July 17th, the private copying exception was dead.

And just like that, less than a year after the UK officially got the right to rip CDs they had legally purchased, that right disappeared. This story is making news again after the excellent 1709 blog had something of a postmortem for the briefly-held-before-being-lost right and others including Ars Technica and Boing Boing picked up on the story, even though the right died back in July.

However, with this new coverage, it left me thinking -- what exactly did the recording industry accomplish here that helps it in any way? A key part of the reasoning of the original Hargreaves report was that allowing a private copyright right would actually bring copyright norms into alignment with what people expected copyright law to allow -- thus giving people more of a reason to respect copyright law, for not being totally ridiculous and unreasonable:

Quote:The Review favours a limited private copying exception which corresponds to what consumers are already doing. As rights holders are well aware of consumers’ behaviour in this respect, our view is that the benefit of being able to do this is already factored into the price that rights holders are charging. A limited private copying exception which corresponds to the expectations of buyers and sellers of copyright content, and is therefore already priced into the purchase, will by definition not entail a loss for right holders.

And yet, the record labels still went to court to block this and won. And yet... no one actually thinks the record labels are now going to sue individuals for ripping CDs, because that would be ludicrous.

The end result, though, are a bunch of headlines mocking copyright law and how out of touch it is with reality. I'm honestly trying to understand what the record labels' strategy was here. They spent money on a legal fight where the only thing they got out of it was a right they've never used and which they're unlikely to use -- but in doing so further eroded the public's respect (whatever might be left of it) for copyright law. This is kind of amazing, given how frequently we hear people from the recording industry insist that copyright must be respected. Yet, they're the ones who constantly make a complete mockery of it as they have done here. And for what? To retain a "right" they were never going to use in the first place? Is it really so scary to the industry to give an inch that they must fight to make copyright even less respected in the process?


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