T3 Opinion: Ripping CDs is illegal again. Why?

We really don't know what's going on with copyright law

Two stories here, but both are idiotic in their own special way. But, as usual with the British government, someone important made a donation and now copyright is back in the spotlight.

Let's start with CD ripping. This has been a bone of contention for some considerable time in the UK. At the end of last week the High Court overturned government legislation that allowed people who had purchased CDs to copy the music which they had purchased to put on an MP3 player or phone they had purchased so they could listen to their purchased music which they had legally purchased.

Did I make my point in that last paragraph? I hope so, because somewhere my English teacher has a big frown on her face. My point is simple though, we shouldn't be punishing people that have bought something from enjoying it on a number of their devices. The problem is when it comes to digital things the originators seem to think they're due some special treatment.

Let's be honest here, ripping a CD hurts no one. If you give it to friends when you've made the MP3s then you could arguably be costing the band sales, but does anyone really do that anymore? Music is cheap, if I want a CD it's actually more hassle for me to go online and download it illegally than it is to just stream it. Even if I want to listen to Taylor Swift, and I only have Spotify, I can still watch her videos on YouTube.

Victimless crime

And, what's more, with a CD you don't even need to bypass any copy protection - for the most part - so there's no issue with defeating encryption or anything else. Ripping a CD really is just a matter of copying some bits. This truly is the definition of a victimless crime.

The second part of this story is that "pirates" could soon find themselves with a 10-year jail term. But let's clear up one thing first, that word "pirate" is utterly misused. The term is "copyright infringement" we have ended up with piracy because it sounds worse than infringing someone's copyright. Pirates, let's not forget are murderers and thieves who terrorise international waters.

Of course it's perfectly fair for musicians and actors and everyone who produces these artistic works we enjoy to expect to get some money for their work. But there's no real sense of proportionality here. Why does a someone who distributes the work of others - possibly for no financial reward - get a 10-year sentence.

Well, there is no reason that I can come up with that doesn't ultimately boil down to the fact that rights holders have a powerful lobby that is able to bend the will of governments. Let's take for example racially aggravated assault. That's the act of hurting someone because you don't like their ethnicity. The maximum term for that is seven years.

10 years...

Having a gun without a licence. A gun. That can be used to kill people? Yup, 10 years. Having a loaded gun in a public place - seven years. There are even some sexual crimes that get as little as two years, like drugging someone to have sex with them, that will net you just two in the clink.

More than the length though, you have to ask what the goal of a 10-year sentence actually is. The person you're locking up probably learned their lesson the moment the first set of handcuffs went on. People who distribute copyrighted material aren't a danger to society, they're not likely to commit other crimes and a suspended sentence or even a caution would probably set them straight.

The fact is this law is one that has been created to appease a vocal industry. Music, TV and film are, of course, all critical parts of our economy and culture - so they need encouragement and protection - but this sort of punishment is totally out of whack.

What's my advice though? Well, keep ripping your CDs for personal use. No one respects or feels like this law is justified. If a record label wants to enforce it in court they'll have to prove you did it. Perhaps avoid mentioning it and you'll probably get left alone.

For jail time, we should set a punishment that fits the crime. Really this should be community-based, perhaps we should get those convicted to staff one of the food banks our nation is increasingly relying on to stay alive while the government panders to rich corporates instead of looking after the people of our nation.

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