Wednesday 30 July 2014

Private copying - a new copyright exception in the UK

Hooray! We (in the UK) now have a "private copy" exception to copyright. About time too. Until recently, many forms of private copying were infringements of copyright. In particular format shifting such as copying music from your old CD's and DVD's onto your phone or making a "mix tape" for your own use were infringements of copyright and, if you believe some of the rhetoric of the music industry, morally equivalent to theft.

By contrast, almost everyone seemed both to engage in private copying and to think it was OK. Indeed a recent survey I conducted suggests that the vast majority of people think that format shifting is OK (a 95% credible interval of 89 - 93% of the population). So it is very surprising that the law continued to turn its face against something subject to such overwhelming approval.


The new law comes in the form of the Copyright and Rights in Performances (Personal Copies for Private Use) Regulations 2014, which is as yet only available in draft. It will come into force on 1st October and add a new section 28B to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The effect of the new law is that making a copy of a work is not an infringement, subject to 3 conditions:

  • the source of the copy (i.e. what you are copying from) is either your "own copy" or a "personal copy"
  • it is made for your private use
  • it is made for ends which are "neither directly nor indirectly commercial"

Own copy

Your "own copy" of a work is one which:

  • you have lawfully acquired
  • on a "permanent basis"
  • is not an infringing copy
  • has not been made under any exception to copyright

This means that you cannot use the private copy exception to "launder" an infringement, eg by copying a work from a friend (still an infringement) and then making a copy of that copy. Similarly, a copy made for private study or research (an exception to copyright under section 29 of the 1988 Act) or a temporary copy, such as one in the browser's cache (see section 28A) is not your "own copy" and so cannot be safely duplicated under the private copy exception.

Your "own copy" is not necessarily a copy that you "own" in the intellectual property law sense. As I read it "lawfully acquired" includes a download which is only made available under licence. In the long run almost all digital content will be downloaded in some fashion rather than bought on a physical medium so a restriction to "owned" copies would be hopelessly restrictive.

The tricky part of the definition is likely to be what is meant by "lawfully acquired on a permanent basis"?

The new section 28B(4) "helpfully" give a short list of examples of copies that are or are not "lawfully acquired on a permanent basis". I am not sure they help all that much. Unsurprisingly copies which have been borrowed, rented, broadcast or streamed are not "acquired on a permanent basis". The same applies to a "download enabling no more than temporary access to a copy", whereas any other download that arises from a purchase or gift would be lawfully acquired on a permanent basis.

Could a copyright owner get around this exception by selling works for very long periods (decades perhaps) with a provision that the work reverts to the owner at the end? I doubt it. My hope is that the courts apply a normal English understanding to the words "temporary" and "permanent". For example, if I say I have a temporary job, you would be a bit surprised to learn that I have a fixed term of 30 years. You are more likely to describe my post as permanent.

Personal copies

A further example of something that is not your "own copy" is a copy made under the private copy exception. These are known as "personal copies". For example a lawful backup copy of an mp3 music file is not your "own copy", but it is a "personal copy". This means, as you would expect, that you can copy your backup copies.

Private use and file lockers

Just in case there was any doubt, the new s28B will make it clear that making back up copies and format shifting are certainly private use. Interestingly s28B(5)(c) makes it clear that storing a copy online so that you can access it later is also "private use" even though the file will be accessible to the file host as well.

This means that you will be able to store your own and personal copies of files on Dropbox (privately at least) and on similar servers.


Section 28B will apply fairly common-sense provisions to transfers. If you transfer a personal copy (i.e. one of the copies you have made under this exception) to someone else, you will be infringing copyright unless the copyright owner has given you permission to do so. Personal copies are not meant to change hands. Even if the transfer is otherwise lawful, you would infringe copyright if you retained any of your other personal copies.

For example: if you buy a DVD, make a back up, and then sell the DVD second-hand (something you are entitled to do under section 18(3) of the 1988 Act), you must delete that back up copy. If you keep the back up copy it becomes and infringing copy and stops being a "personal copy".

Is lending OK?

But wait there is something a little odd here. Section 28B(6) says "Copyright in a work is infringed if an individual transfers a personal copy of the work to another person (otherwise than on a private and temporary basis)...". That appears to suggest that it is OK to transfer a personal copy of the work to another person if it is done on a private and temporary basis.

Could my "private use" include lending copies - on a temporary basis only - to friends? There is certainly material in s28B for such an argument. Whether it would run in court is another matter.

Restrictions by the copyright owner

One point that (bafflingly) appears to have upset a number of politicians is the new 28B(10) which blocks copyright owners from preventing private copying by contract. Clearly without such a clause it would be routine to add a provision that private copying was in breach of contract and we might as well not have bothered.

Copyright owners could also use a form of digital rights management to prevent private copying. Circumventing that protection may, at least for something that is not a computer program, itself be an infringement contrary to s296ZA.

It is already the law that, where digital rights management (what is referred to in the legislation as "effective technological measures) prevents one of a list of "permitted acts" (found in schedule 5A of the 1988 Act) then anyone prevented from doing the permitted act may complain to the Secretary of State, who may then do something about it.

This has always seemed to me a rather weak remedy since the Secretary of State is not obliged to do anything about it. When I last asked, no valid complaints appear ever to have been made.

Rather than make private copying another "permitted act" and thus apply the existing mechanism to it, the regulations will create a new s296ZEA. The main difference from 296ZE appears to be that it applies not only when the making of personal copies is prevented, but also when there is a technological restriction that restricts the number of personal copies which may be made. Whether anyone complains to the Secretary of State remains to be seen, please let me know if you do.

Legacy copies

If you made a copy in the past that would have been a "personal copy" if the new law had been in force back then - for example it would have to have been made from your "own copy" and been for individual private use - then that copy is now a personal copy.

Those old mix tapes that people made will become (on 1st October) "personal copies" and so may be lawfully backed up etc provided of course the mix tape was made from their owners "own copy" etc. Oddly the making of the copy (in the past) is still an infringement and so a copyright owner could, in principle, sue you for making private copies in the past, but nothing can be done about your use or possession of them now.

What about compensation?

One objection to these regulations raised by some rights owners is that there should be provision for them to receive some form of compensation for the private copying.

The power used to make the regulations derives from article 5(2)(b) of the Information Society Directive (2001/29/EC) which allows member states of the EU to provide for exceptions to the "reproduction right" (i.e. the right to copy):

in respect of reproductions on any medium made by a natural person for private use and for ends that are neither directly nor indirectly commercial, on condition that the rightholders receive fair compensation which takes account of the application or non-application of technological measures referred to in Article 6 to the work or subject-matter concerned

This would appear to mean that some form of "fair compensation" is required. In many EU countries this takes the form of a levy, for example on CD's, that is then distributed via collecting societies.

But recital 35 of the directive says that in assessing the level of fair compensation "account should be taken of the circumstances of each case" and "In cases where rightholders have already received payment in some other form, for instance as part of a licence fee, no specific or separate payment may be due.". The argument made by the UK government is that because private copying is restricted to a lawfully acquired work, the rights owner will have already priced in any private copying when charging for that access and so there is no need for any further payment. The level of "fair compensation" is nil.

Whether this argument is likely to be challenged by any part of the copyright industry I do not know. Given that private copying, of the kind that will be permitted by section 28B, is almost universal, it is hard to believe that these regulations will impose any further, quantifiable, loss on rights owners. It seems tome that the very limited private copy exception should not entitle rights owners to any further compensation. We shall see.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Copynorm survey - answering some questions

Thank you for everyone who has responded to the survey so far. I have just short of 500 responses, it would be really great to double that before the survey closes, so please share with your friends.

The survey has generated a lot of comments and I think I owe it to those who have bothered to comment to collect together some of their questions and address them here. Unfortunately I can't discuss the thinking behind the questions - otherwise I might bias the answer - and so I won't talk about specific questions.

The unexplored

There are a lot of interesting areas that I have left unexplored. That is deliberate. In order to keep the survey reasonably short and within various technical constraints I had to pare down the range of things I explored considerably.

Penniless artists

For example: does the status of the creator of the work make a difference? Some people do seem to think that a very wealthy rock star has less right to complain about copying of their work than a penniless artist: others disagree. It would be very interesting to know what difference that made and I considered asking questions to explore that distinction. Unfortunately those questions had to be cut.

A similar example is given by a commenter known as Julian:
... if the artist gets paid 0.02p out of a £15.99 product, or is dead, then it's a little difficult to argue that copying the CD counts as stealing from them.


It is often asserted that people who illegally download music (in particular) are more likely to buy music than people who do not. I have no idea whether that is true, but there is clearly a view that it is OK to circumvent a publisher and download something without paying if you are "testing" the work out. Provided you actually buy a copy if you keep it, then you have done nothing wrong.

An anonymous commenter said:
in the situation where [someone] wants to listen to an album but doesn't want to pay for it, while I marked that I thought it was OK, there needs to be a little nuance there. If he wants an album so he can hear it and decide whether or not he likes it and is willing to spend money, that's totally fine. If he wants it specifically so he doesn't ever have to pay for it, that's a problem.
This was another of the questions I wanted to ask but fell on the cutting room floor.

The law

One of the main aims of this survey is to find out what people think is acceptable not what people think is legal. But that causes a problem for some people who believe there is inherent value in obeying the law whatever their own morality might be.

"James" says:
whilst I believe that the law relating to copyright, patents, trademarks and other forms of so-called "intellectual property" ought to be drastically liberalised, I believe that people ought to obey the law even though they disagree with it this distinction is not recorded by the survey
James's position is to give what philosophers call "deontological value" to the law. His concern is that the survey doesn't capture that distinction.

In fact I am in roughly the same position as James. As a child I was enormously influenced by the character of Sir Thomas More as brilliantly portrayed by Paul Scofield in Fred Zinnemann's A Man for All Seasons and in particular by the following quote:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
(courtesy IMDB
The answer to James is that I am aware that the law affects people's views on right and wrong and I will try to take that into account. If I have sufficient responses from different jurisdictions world-wide (I am hopeful) then I may be able to analyse whether the jurisdiction in which someone lives affects their views.

Gervase Markham also wonders why I don't ask people "do you think this should be legal so you could do this". That would be a fascinating. In fact my first plan for the project was to find out what people thought was or was not legal. I think it would be really interesting to know what people think the law actually is and that seems to me logically prior to asking them whether they want the law to be changed (you can't want to change the law if you don't know what it is).

All I can say is that what my supervisor and I ended up thrashing out was different. However if anyone wants to help out with a survey of that or something else of interest later in the year, I would be very interested in suggestions (see my remarks at the end).

Charles Oppenheim says:
Another problem with the survey is that, assuming the changes go through, UK copyright law will permit some of the actions outlined in the survey that are currently illegal.
That may be right (there's a lot of "it depends") and if people would like me to I would be happy to produce an analysis of all the questions and their legality once I am finished with the dissertation.

The world as it is 

Reuben Thomas is unhappy that his answers may not reflect his true belief. 
I said "yes" to almost every part of every question, but that does not mean that I think that it's good if everyone copies and shares everything; it's rather that the current situation is bad in so many ways.
He then goes on to give a number of situations where (to paraphrase) the market is distorted, which in turn may justify behaviour that would not be justified if those distortions were not present. Origami Girl and Saxon Christopher raise similar points.

My hope was that people would understand the survey to be about the world as it is with all its perfections and oddities. I wanted to avoid being overly abstract. I thought that concrete "real world" situations might bring clearer answers. Whether I am right about that remains to be seen. However the point is taken and, if I had more space, would be something worth exploring.


Paul and Gervase both suggest asking a question along the lines of "would you do this?". That would be a logical since I ask what other people would do, why don't I ask what the person answering the survey would do. The simple answer is that I am constrained by university rules on ethics. If I ask whether someone would do something that may be unlawful (or in some places and cases criminal) that is very much more intrusive than asking them what they think is OK. It is also very close to asking them "have you ever done this?", which would be an even more intrusive question.

Much as I would like to know, I have had to avoid questions like this altogether.

Free text

I considered allowing free text comments in the survey (either for each question or for the survey as a whole). Maybe I should have allowed them as an option. I was keen to keep things short and simple and I thought the value of adding free text might be less than the cost in additional cognitive load on people answering the survey.

Given the very interesting questions and comments from people on completion, maybe that was a mistake and I should have added something to let people express their frustration at the narrowness of the categories offered (something I struggle with in surveys) and to offer me the benefit of their wisdom. I am grateful that so many have bothered to add their comments to the survey.


Thank you for all your comments. I am sorry if I haven't (yet) addressed something you have said. I am really grateful for all the feedback.

One of the main themes seems to be that I didn't answer questions people wanted answering. I hope to have this dissertation done and dusted by May / June, but I will still have some time left on my surveymonkey subscription so if anyone wanted to do the hard work of canvassing people to answer another more detailed survey, or a survey about other things (eg what you think the law should be) I would be more than happy to offer legal, technical and statistical advice and support. 

I think we know far too little about what the general population thinks about copying and the law, so the more the merrier. Maybe a kickstarter to raise funds to buy a properly sampled audience is something to try.

I hope to be able to publish the data in open data format and some commentary on the final results later in the year, but for now please keep sharing and let's see if we can hit 1,000 respondents.

Monday 10 February 2014

Copying, sharing and remixing - what do you think?

I am completing a part-time LLM (masters) in computer and communications law with Queen Mary University London. I would really appreciate your help in completing a survey. It should take less than 5 minutes to complete. If you want to know more about the survey, read on...

I, like many lawyers, spend a lot of time thinking, talking and writing about intellectual property law and, in particular, copyright. But law is not the whole story. People do what they do for all sorts of reasons: what the law says is only one of them.

People may also be driven by socially accepted rules of conduct known as social norms. In simple terms: what they think is OK. Norms are complicated things. For example you may have your own views about what is OK, but you might also pay attention to:

  • what you think other people think is OK
  • what you think other people actually do

Obviously law affects social norms. I'm sure it would be a fun an interesting exercise to find out what people think they are allowed to do by the law. But that is not what I am trying to find out - this time anyway.

For my research I have created a to try to find out something about social norms for a number of common situations where someone might want to copy, share or remix an existing work. I hope that learning what people actually think will be illuminating.

I would therefore be extremely grateful if you could try the survey out for yourself and also pass it on to as many of your friends, relatives, colleagues (and really anyone else you know) as you can.

I hope to post the results of the survey in July of this year (2014) and discuss some of the results as they come in. For now I won't say any more about the design so that I do not influence you when you fill it in (which I am sure you are going to do). If you don't want to read my other blog posts restrict yourself to the tag copynorms.

Here is the link for the survey again in case you missed it.