The UK is the only country whose laws ‘abjectly fail’ to protect the interests of consumers when it comes to copyright, according to Consumers International. The lobbying group has just published IP Watch List, a comparison of copyright laws and enforcement across 16 countries, and found the UK’s current regime to be ‘the worst by far’ – beneath the likes of Indonesia, Thailand and Pakistan. And we can see why. For instance, it’s still technically illegal even to copy your own CDs onto your own MP3 player for your own use – which presumably makes criminals out of almost all of us…
The UK’s copyright regime was the oldest of all those under consideration, and CI obviously feels that it hasn’t changed sufficiently to reflect the new digital realities. Any kind of copying, sampling or parody without payment remains illegal under UK law. This not only effectively makes about half of the internet a black market, but it also ‘needlessly criminalises’ most music fans who copy music to their iPods, according to CI’s UK arm Consumer Focus – the watchdog points out that 55% of consumers do this regularly, and nearly 60% don’t even realise that it’s illegal.
CI reckons our laws could ‘seriously harm’ consumers’ welfare, by restricting their ability to transfer files to different formats. You may think sounds a little melodramatic. But the broader problem is that if part of a law is ridiculously draconian and pretty much unenforceable, the inevitable result is that people ignore it altogether – which means the credibility of the entire regime is undermined. ‘The current system puts unrealistic limits on our listening and viewing habits and is rapidly losing credibility among consumers,’ as Ed Mayo of Consumer Focus told the BBC today. The suggestion is that copyright laws should be focused on more important (and more winnable) battles instead.
If the Government wants to know how the UK can lose its unwanted title as the world’s least progressive copyright regime, it doesn’t have far to look. Back in 2006 former FT editor Andrew Gowers published a review of IP on its behalf, which advocated changing the law to reflect the new digital reality – but although the Government is banging on about creating a new rights agency to deal with the issue, it appears to have quietly shelved most of the report’s recommendations.
Critics insist that at the very least we should introduce a ‘fair use’ exception, like they have in the US – Mayo says this ‘would bring us in line with consumer expectations, technology and the rest of the world.’ It's true that the UK produces a lot of great IP, which needs to be protected. But one thing’s for sure: stories like this won’t exactly bolster our reputation as a forward-thinking digital thought leader...
In today's bulletin:
Government to splurge £250m on green car bribes
Darling to announce worst budget deficit in 50 years
UK has the world's worst copyright laws
Brits refuse to mix business with pleasure?
Nick Hood: How Poland plans to stave off recession