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Proposed Changes to Copyright Laws on Format Shifting

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Spurred by a widespread consensus that the UK’s intellectual property rights laws were in need of reform, the government commissioned an independent review by Professor Ian Hargreaves. In his 123 page report Professor Hargreaves found that IP laws were “obstructing innovation and economic growth”.

Professor Hargreaves put forward 10 recommendations to redress the issues and singled out copyright laws as being in particular need of modernisation. As a consequence the government announced plans in December 2012 to adopt many of the recommendations, including making changes to copyright laws on ‘format shifting’ or private copying.

The Current Law on Format Shifting

The current law on format shifting is covered by copyright laws which criminalise this process. With format shifting, content is illegally copied onto a digital device or medium from the original legal format. By way of example, it is currently illegal for an individual to transfer a lawfully purchased CD onto their computer and then download it to their portable music player.

Many millions of people are already unknowingly culpable of format shifting, which is essential to the use of technologies such as MP3 players and computers. Although no individual has to date been prosecuted for format shifting, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint against a company which offered consumers the facility to load CDs onto an electronic memory on the basis that they “incited consumers to break the law”.

Proposed Changes to Format Shifting Laws

The proposed changes to format shifting laws will, “introduce a narrow technology-neutral private copying exception which applies equally to all types of private storage and all types of copyright works. It will allow a lawful owner or buyer of a copy of a work to reproduce that copy for their personal use, but would not permit them to share copies with other people”.

While these new changes will mostly correspond to what many consumers are already ubiquitously doing, it is hoped that they will help reduce uncertainty over the legalities and in turn increase public respect for copyright.


The new legislation, which should come into force in October 2013, will permit the lawful purchaser or owner to make a private copy but will not allow an individual who has borrowed or rented content to do so. This should minimise harm to copyright owners. Arguments to apply levies on copying equipment were deemed to be an unnecessary, inefficient and unfair tax on consumers. Rights holders will have the continued ability to “license innovative, value added cloud services”, as well as use technological protection measures (TMP) to restrict copying.

If you need advice regarding the proposed changes to copyright laws on format shifting, Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can assist you. For more information please contact James Crichton via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.