Gathan Beaga

copy rights?

The availability of digital media for music and video has transformed the way we consumers use them. However, the law here in New Zealand covering what consumers can and can’t do with copyrighted digital media is an ass.

For example, yesterday I broke the law. I bought a CD, and ripped it to my computer’s hard-drive for later use in the MP3 player. According to this interpretation, my actions are illegal, as under the Copyright Act of 1994:

There is no general exception to copyright infringement for private of domestic copying, including “format shifting”, of legitimately purchased recordings from one medium to another to allow playing or viewing via other devices.

Clearly this is stupid. The present law criminalises the everyday behaviour of many New Zealanders. In particular, it unfairly restricts the actions of those who love music the most, not to mention most of the music industry itself. So I have my own code to follow in these matters instead.

I take my basic rule as this:

Do whatever you like with your digital media, so long as your actions do not impair the ability of the artist to sell more copies of the work to other households.

Following on from this general rule here’s a list of my own personal do’s and don’ts. Not all of these are strictly logical implications of the rule above – it’s more about what I’m comfortable with. When in doubt, I try to think about what the artist would want. Also, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend anyone else follow these, as some of the “do’s” are illegal under current law.

Things that are OK for me to do:

  • Format shifting for personal use. For example, I’ve made a copy of Bella’s Wiggles DVD on video for when we visit her grandparents, who do not have a DVD player. However, this copy does not get lent to anyone else (although the original disk might).
  • Backups for personal use. I’ve got a copy on CD of all Bella’s Wiggles tunes in case the inevitable happens and she scratches one of the originals.
  • Copying for personal use. I make copies of some of my CDs for use in the car.
  • Ripping, at a quality setting of my choice, for personal use. Obviously this is a specialised version of format shifting. In this case I require the freedom to choose what level of quality in ripped version – I don’t want crappy low-bitrate DRM-crippled files that won’t work or sound poor in my portable player of choice.
  • Making and receiving compilations both for personal use and the use of others. I figure that, on balance, a compilation tape or CD improves the chance that the recipient will buy one of the full original works whose parts comprise the compilation. It’s similar to the way exposure to music on the radio will sometimes spur you to purchase it. This is one of the ones where you’d have to ask: would the artist object? And in most cases I can’t imagine they would.
  • Lending out original versions of digital media (on the understanding that the recipient does not copy it).

Things that are not OK for me to do:

  • Copying entire works (i.e., a CD or a DVD) for other people.
  • Lending out or borrowing any copied or format shifted versions of full original works.
  • And following from the above, the use of filesharing networks for obtaining or sharing copied or format shifted full versions or parts of original works.

So there you have it. If there are any readers out there who have created and published works on CD or DVD and who can tell me where I’m being unreasonable I’d like to hear from them.

Later: my thoughts on the Government’s proposed changes to the Copyright Act.

[Update: just to clarify: these are the guidelines I use personally, and are not listed here with the intention that anyone else should follow them. Also, I have occasionally done some of the things in my “not OK” list. Nobody’s perfect.]