CD to MP3: Format shifting allowed, but pirates beware!

MyBroadband recently reported that it is technically illegal to convert legally purchased CDs into files for listening to on a computer, MP3 player, or similar device.

David du Plessis, the operations director of RiSA, clarifies RiSA’s position on the matter.

Du Plessis explained that RiSA didn’t write the Copyright Act and that the organisation isn’t interested in chasing down people that have made copies of CDs they’ve legally purchased for own personal use. “Format shifting will never be our priority,” du Plessis said. “The focus of our activities is on illegal reproductions of recordings that are sold or shared.”

Du Plessis emphasised that his comments on format shifting for personal use is applicable to personal use by the purchaser and not through such a purchaser for any third parties’ personal use.

Although format shifting is in conflict with the provisions of the Copyright Act, Du Plessis says that as long as the music was purchased legally and the copies being made are for the personal use of the purchaser only, the risk of prosecution is zero. “I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world where you’d get in trouble for that,” he added.

Regarding reform of the copyright law he said, “Just because our Copyright Act reads differently to that of the US doesn’t make it dated. As it is written today, the law allows copyright owners and RiSA to prosecute those who sell or share music without having the rights to do so.”

Du Plessis considers the issue an academic one and says that it shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. “The interests of authors outweigh the academic question of whether people will be prosecuted for making private copies, especially when no-one has ever been sued for this.”

While RiSA may not be interested in prosecuting offenders it doesn’t change the fact that this activity is still illegal. Surely it’s possible for South African copyright law to be amended without compromising the rights of copyright holders?

Kerryn McCay, director of the African Commons Project, says that it’s not only possible, but necessary. “People generally like to be good citizens and abide by the law and this law affects what can be practically done or not done. The law needs to be changed so that consumers are not unnecessarily criminalised.”

She points out that format shifting doesn’t just affect those who want to convert their CDs or listen to their iPods. “Visually disabled and blind persons are not legally permitted to use the technological means available to move materials only available in visual formats to audio formats (or vice versa).”

To McCay, it’s about people’s constitutional right of access to information.

When Du Plesssis was asked whether he would support copyright reform that’s in harmony with the interests of copyright holders as well as consumers Du Plessis responded, “If such reconciliation is possible and the interests of our members are protected, then yes.”

Format shifting and copyright reform << Discuss in the forum

Related Links:

RiSA: RiSA anti-piracy campaign

The African Commons Project: Petition for Copyright review


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CD to MP3: Format shifting allowed, but pirates beware!