Why losing the battle to rip CDs is bad

Just heard the news that the recently gained right in the UK for people to rip CDs for personal use (which most people thought was legal anyway) has been overturned.

Although I doubt this will stop anyone from doing it, it’s bad for several reasons – the first being that “they suggested that a tax should be applied to blank media including blank CDs, hard drives, memory sticks and other blank media.”. Now one could argue whether blank tapes and CD-Audio disks (not CD-Rs) were used primarily to copy music, but there are far wider uses for hard drives, memory sticks and memory cards that piracy. In fact I’d argue most uses don’t involve copying music – from photography to doing your accounts to making your own music…

The more disturbing fact should be for the industry (in this case the Musicians’ Union and the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors) is that generally millenials and teens DON’T copy music, they aren’t interested enough with the current crap on display to copy it. And why should you, with Spotify, Soundcloud and YouTube? This is like arguing about who regulates the telegraph or wax cylinder when the phone or phonograph has arrived. This horse has completely bolted…and the record industry has itself to blame, for overcharging for CDs for decades, stopping people from format-shifting legally bought items for personal use, then not investing in artists and new bands past the first album and putting out utter reality show dross and drippy ballads. No. sympathy. at. all.

The tax on blank tapes annoyed me in the 1980’s and 90’s – I recorded on blank tapes a lot. Had hundreds of the bloody things…but I’d estimate that nearly half of my tapes was my own music, home recordings, my own soundeffects and friends messing around, off-air recordings of non-commercial radio frequences (scanning) and foreign shortwave burbles. But that didn’t matter – I still had to give money to Kylie and Prince for every tape sold, those well known starving artists.

They don’t tell you that the BPI, MCPS-PRS et al give the proportion of such duties to the big artists, with a strange ‘what if?’ scale of ‘what they think you might have bought if you hadn’t copied the record’. Smaller artists don’t usually see a penny of that, same with any fines/fees to the copyright organisations, they’re shared out in a similar ‘Boys Club’ fashion. The little man does not win in this situation, whatever they bleat about ‘caring for the artist in the street’. (In fact the smaller independent artists usually lose, with major label copyright shenanigans and takedowns).

Another is that in a weird way this legitimises piracy for many people – as the original law argued, to make format shifting illegal means many people will go ‘what the hell’ and then start downloading and filesharing too. If you’ve got the lesser and bigger crimes, you’ll go for the bigger one if the penalty is similar.

This is what’s going to happen with ‘smart drugs’ and legal highs, for instance (the UK government is going to outlaw poppers, nitrous, bath salts and the like, so it’s obvious that people are going to shift to the harder drugs since the legality was mostly the reason those were prevalent – and of course those who really want those drugs are going to be pushed straight into the hands of dealers who have a vested interest in pushing harder, more addictive and more expensive substances).

The change in the law argued personal copying should be made legal to avoid this ‘what the heck’ scenario. If you know you’ve paid for illegal downloading with your hard drive, memory sticks etc, then it’s subtly going to encourage you to do it (I know I was like that with tape and CD-Audio thinking ‘Well, I’ve already paid!’).

It’s also I suspect unenforceable in this global age, since so many cards, memory sticks, hard drives come via China and/or eBay nowadays, and memory sticks and cards are usually under the threshold for Customs to poke their nose in (around £15-20 or so). Unless HMRC are going to have to open every small package to look for blank media tax avoidance. I hae me doots that will happen. So this is another way that the high street shops are going to be completely uncompetitive – more than currently anyway.

Complete own goal.

Relatio Clash

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