The UK and the iPod tax

In one of those “it never would have occurred to me” moments, I have just heard that it is illegal in the UK to “rip” a copy of a CD you own onto your own iPod (a practice which is legal in the US).  This information comes courtesy of the discussion taking place right now over the music industry’s desire to levy an “iPod tax” to make up for this.  I particularly liked the comment posted by EastFinchleyite which started

By the same logic, if I buy a CD and then play it in my living room, and there are other people present, I (or they?) should pay a levy for listening to copyrighted music that they haven’t bought.

I agree completely.  As noted, it never would have occurred to me that it mattered which device you used to play music that you had paid for.  Some days I really do think that living in Europe borders on the ridiculous and that going home to the US seems like a really good idea.    

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9 responses to “The UK and the iPod tax

  1. That is ridiculous.

  2. Hmm, in the future, be sure only to rip CDs while visiting stateside – it’s safer.

    Of course, the idea of a tax on the MP3 player/iPod itself is asinine… that’s not the device that is actually reformatting the media, of course. Who’s to say there aren’t people whose iPods contain only music downloaded from iTunes?

  3. The fault lies in the way ‘fair use’ is defined in the UK laws, and the record companies, slowly losing their way, are clutching at straws. For each new tax, there is the question of enforcement and appropriate allocation. Asking the ISPs is a definite waste of time. If they do not agree to police the users, there is little by way of legal recourse – save take them all to court which a record industry in deep financial dire straits really must not do – to force them to do so.

    The Nu Labour chaps are already in deep shit regarding the 10p rate and I doubt very much they will encourage any new taxes of this (relatively frivolous) sort.

    I am firmly of the view that the UK’s involvement in the EU should be of the trade bloc sort not the sacrificing sovereignty sort and this sort of interpretation is definitely a product of the socialist minds who seem to be in charge at the helm of affairs. The work I have done for the EC tells me that competence there is as rarefied as air at the tops of the Himalayas.

  4. US copyright law actually has a specific set of unique rules regarding recorded music (different from sheet music, written words, sculptures, building designs, etc.) that originated with the feared monopoly of RCA Victor (“Victrola”) back in 1909. For “commercial performance” the rate is a flat 2.5 cents (or is it 2? Machts nichts to the point at hand), but “commercial” is very definitely not someone’s living room. The site has to be some sort of establishment, a business.

    There are decided cases clarifying this. If you own a small pu b and play CDs, you need a license. If you own a small pub and play the radio on the classic rock station, you don’t, because the radio station has played the songs under its own license.

    Now, where it gets tricky is if you are holding a benefit car-wash in your home driveway with proceeds going to animal rescue or something, and play a CD on a boom box outside. There, it is possible that an ASCAP or BMI functionary who has lost his mind might try to push you on it.

    There are, of course, a lot of legacy music industry people who have, indeed, lost their minds, but so what else is new? The same thing happened to buggy whip manufacturers, barrel stave producers, and the minicomputer manufacturers of DEC, Burroughs, and Honeywell-Bull. Not to mention the airlines, collectively. Whack the moles as their heads pop up.

  5. Kurmudge: On that benefit car-wash thing, is there no distinction between for-profit and not-for-profit use of proprietary/ copyrighted material?

    A bit like the Rowling Harry Potter mess in NY going on right now? I think she raised a stink because he is about to make money, having praised him earlier for his free website. Derivative product privileges and all.

    I think in all this, somewhere the artists must be the aggrieved party. As long as they let record companies speak for them, this unholy mess will continue. I wrote about this once – the model is undergoing a shift and the record companies are clutching at straws…

  6. My sister reminded me that really there is a good bit of flexibility in the record industry, and there are profits in China even in the face of rampant piracy. See what she says here
    http://onedayinmay.net/blog/?p=391

  7. “Kurmudge: On that benefit car-wash thing, is there no distinction between for-profit and not-for-profit use of proprietary/ copyrighted material?”

    The distinction is there, but it is not dispositive. Under the fair use doctrine, as later codified by the 1976 copyright act, an infringement case is evaluated by a four-pronged test (US courts LOOOVE multiple prongs; might be some hidden Freudian impulse there). The use is analyzed regarding the nature of the use, the type of copyrighted material, the amount of material misappropriated, and the economic impact of the copying. There are also specific exceptions for “parody”, because parody is considered “transformative” and because if you had to get a license to prick some pompous buffoon’s hot air balloon, you would never get the license (from the famous “Pretty Woman” 2LiveCrew SCOTUS case).

    I am not familiar with the Rowling flap, but if the guy is posting Harry Potter images and making money, because it is a work of fiction he probably loses a fair use defense. Even if his web site can’t be shown to have cost Rowling anything, he would already be on the wrong side of three out of four factors.

  8. Ah, thanks for that, Kurmudge. I have been trying to explain this point to trained-lawyers who are thankfully not practising for a while…

    But then they are lawyers – as are you – and I merely a person who negotiated licensing deals for my small tech clients with large MNC behemoths, so my point was going down like a lead balloon. This sort of connects with the other thread about lawyers and I can see why they get so much bad press. 🙂

    I am out to run and my email shall be coming soon. It is great fun talking with you!

  9. Three things. 1. I am not a lawyer- I have legal training; the rules prohibit me for calling myself a lawyer if I choose not to be licensed. Same degree, different status, silly rules.

    2. I envy you- I haven’t been able to run for three months since a stretch during a nasty ice fall while running in early February turned my entire hamstring a strange shade of purple. I can do anything now *except* run, which makes me suspect a partial avulsion that will have to be tacked back down before I can hit the streets at a jog again.

    And 3: This thread and its predecessor started out with a discussion of how bureaucrats can get a bit overambitious. This link illustrates it perfectly:
    http://www.torontosun.com/News/Canada/2008/04/19/5329776-sun.html

    The Canadians had banned outdoor clotheslines for drying laundry. Now they are going to ban any bans on outdoor clotheslines (got that?) because the alternative, and appliance, burns fossil fuels and causes global warming.

    Beam me up, Harry Potter.

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