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Holy Shit

I Just Broke the Law Using My Laptop and a Drake Song

The UK government recently changed its law regarding copyright and now I'm technically a criminal.
Ryan Bassil
London, GB

How many songs do you store on iTunes? If you’re a music fan like me, then chances are you’ve got several gigabytes worth of the compressed little buggers. Maybe you’ve downloaded the tracks from the iTunes store, ripped them from Soundcloud, or been gifted with them gratis after signing up to a mailing list. Perhaps it includes half of your teenage CD collection and rips from the compact discs sent alongside vinyl releases. Wherever they come from though, you’re about to be busted, baby. Why? Because the UK’s High Court has recently reversed a law and made copying legally purchased material a criminal act. In an interview with Torrent Freak, the UK Intellectual Property Office state that it’s now against the law to “make private copies of copyright works you own, without permission from the copyright holder.” Let’s break this down. Obviously, no music fan will see themselves locked in jail or forced to pay a fine because they’ve copied the back catalogue of R.E.M they found in their Dad’s cupboard almost a decade ago on to iTunes and somehow didn’t contact Michael Stipe to ask for his permission, but the new law definitely presents some interesting enlightenments. It states that any service "actively facilitating copyright infringement" is no longer legal. So iTunes – which prompts you to copy a CD to your computer once it’s been inserted – is now technically promoting an illegal practice. The same goes for their iTunes Match Service, Apple Music, and Time Machine – as all three services place music in ‘The Cloud’, effectively creating copies of copyrighted material without permission. It’s not just CDs either. If you copy music you’ve downloaded from iTunes on to a hard-drive for back-up or even your iPhone, then you’re breaking the law because according to the UK Government’s spokesperson this “involves an act of copying”. What about that cute vinyl2mp3 player you bought on Etsy a few months back? Sorry buddy, also illegal. Against my good Mother’s word and wishes, thanks to the UK’s draconian copyright law today I find myself knowingly committing crime. I’ve downloaded a bunch of songs for a radio show I’m doing later tonight – some have come from CDs, some have come from legal downloads. They’ve been placed in my iTunes and now I’m creating duplicate copies to put on a USB stick. This effectively means I have broken the law around thirty times this afternoon alone, all because I wanted to spread the word on how brilliant Drake’s “Hotline Bling” is.


Is that right? What’s the thinking here from the government? I don’t want to be a criminal. I’m just a good guy with a good heart. I decided to get some answers from Chris Cooke, the Business Editor of Complete Music Update and a copyright expert who has been writing about music copyright law since the late 90s on cases like Napster, Kazaa and Pirate Bay, co-founded CMU and has been a consultant for Sony, Orange, the Virgin Group and many more.

Noisey: Hey Chris, could an innocent guy like me go to jail for ripping a CD?

Chris: Not for ripping a CD no. You could be sued in theory - though almost certainly wouldn't be. Copyright infringement only usually becomes a criminal offence if done on an industrial level for profit.

Could I be sued for ripping a CD?

In theory, if you rip a CD to your PC, that is copyright infringement and the label that released the record could sue you. Though realistically they never would. Which is why this is a stupid bit of law, and why everyone - including most of the music industry - agrees that there should be a so called 'private copy right', like there is in most other countries, and which we had for a short time here too. Until it got abolished in the High Court.

Phew. That's good to know. Thanks!

You can find Ryan Bassil on Twitter: @RyanBassil