The UK High Court ruled back in June that making a single copy of a song you bought on iTunes is illegal, and hardly anyone noticed.
The ruling is bizarre, from the consumer’s point of view. It states that consumers do not have a right to make any type of copy of music they have bought, even if it’s only for their own personal use.
That mixtape playlist you just burned for your bae? Totally illegal in Britain.
Even if you paid for the music on iTunes.
The saga began back in 2014 when the UK government made a new set of regulations regarding copyright for digital songs. Those rules contained an exception that let music fans make a copy of music they had bought if it was for their own “private, non-commercial use.” The law was intended to recognise that when consumers buy music legally, they often make a copy — one for a hard drive and maybe one for the cloud or a blank CD.
Record labels weren’t suing consumers for doing this, so the government assumed no harm was being done. After all, the copiers had already bought the music. But music lobby groups for artists and labels asked for the law to be reviewed. They argued that even personal copying harmed their music sales.
In June, Justice Green of the UK High Court agreed, stating that the personal exemption was not “warranted or justified.” The ruling mentions iTunes specifically, and it applies to other music download services like Google Music and Amazon’s Prime Music.
The personal exemption was introduced because the government believed it would be too difficult and bureaucratic to figure out a compensation scheme to force people to pay for making copies of music they owned. But Green found that the government’s data on how widespread copying is, was flawed. Music producers might be harmed if it becomes legal for people to copy music they have bought, he said, and there was very little evidence for the widespread assumption that record labels were not harmed by personal copying.
The judge also concluded that his review means the law will probably be rewritten again:
In my judgment it is sufficient therefore to result in the decision being rendered unlawful. However, this has potentially complex implications for section 28B. It does not necessarily result in that section being struck down. It is, in theory, possible for the Secretary of State to re-investigate the issue in order to address the evidential gap which now prevails. If he does this then one possible outcome would be that the gap that I have identified is plugged and the present decision becomes justified. Another outcome might be that following further investigation the gap in the evidence remains un-plugged in which case the Secretary of State could either repeal section 28B or introduce a compensation scheme. A third possibility is that the Secretary of State simply decides to introduce a compensation scheme without more.
He also suggested that the law be reviewed again by a higher court:
I therefore should consider the possibility that questions should be referred to the Court of Justice before making any final orders in this case.
So the bottom line is that it is very unlikely that you’ll get sued for copying your own music anytime soon. But technically, you can’t, and touching the burn function in iTunes is now illegal.