UK makes private copying illegal again

Thanks to the music industry, it is illegal to make private copies of music — again, at least in the UK. While in most countries the making of copies for personal use (of your own music, films...) is exempt from copyright control, the UK has tried to introduce such exemption, but the judicial review has withdrawn this regulation. The result is that the British are massively infringing an unenforceable law (!)

In most EU countries copyright legislation has since long had such private copying exceptions, which made sense in the age of copying parts of your own books, and makes even more sense in the age of digital music and e-readers. To many it makes sense to copy your music files from the CD you purchased onto your computer and listen to them from there; also having a backup is recommended, and outside the UK all that is perfectly legal.

Why is this so important for Digital DIY? Well, we see that legal regulations are often not in sync with digital practices. This is typically the result of regulations being influenced largely by powerful lobbies, as in this case the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, the Musicians’ Union, and UK Music who appealed the proposed private copyright exemption and requested the judicial review. Understandably so from their business interests, but not necessarily in line with the general interest of society. Not at all in this case as copying lies at the heart of digital networks. In fact the mere viewing of a webpage requires the copying of that information to your local computer from a remote server. Likewise with the reproduction of digital music.

To save their traditional business models the copyright industry has also sought technical measures to limit copying. Notably DRM, Digital Rights Management called by its proponents, or Digital Restrictions Management by its critics. Only with limited success for them.

But back to filesharing and Digital DIY. Those go hand in hand. Just look at free software / open source: developers share code (files) between them under free licenses. Hardware hackers share instructions (in the form of files of course) about how to reproduce a certain device or instalation. Open Source Hardware: didiyers share diagrams, blueprints, design files etc between them.

More in detail we can also observe that a large part of what constitutes Digital DIY is non-commercial, for private use. We should wonder what is the impact of making private copying illegal on the Digital DIYers. Probably a large part of the files shared are under free licenses or have no "all rights reserved" claims on them. So are makers and hackers engaging in Digital DIY much affected by this illegality? I'm sure many have exclusively protected instruction manuals or design diagrams on their disks, which would be illegal under the UK law. But would people eliminate those files because of that? I guess not.

Maybe it would be better to stop making large parts of the population into "pirates"? Shouldn't we bring the law in sync with the interests of society instead of those of the 1%?