Cyberclinic: Is it really illegal to rip a CD to my computer?

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The Independent Tech

I can put up with the guilt no longer. I confess; I rip CDs. I put them in the CD drive, and use freely available, totally legal software to convert the tracks to MP3 format. Then even worse I synchronise my MP3 player with the computer, creating another copy. I've been doing it for years, openly, even in front of strangers. And far from making citizen's arrests, these people have said: "Hey, that's a good idea," and started doing it themselves.

Along with using a mobile while driving, CD ripping must be one of the most frequent instances of law-breaking. When you buy a record, you buy the right to listen to it, but shifting it to any other format is prohibited. With the advent of the MP3 player, the law has been subject to derision even more so than in the 1980s, when record companies loudly claimed that "home taping is killing music". They're a bit more muted today; after a few attempts to release CDs that couldn't be ripped (and would often refuse to play on some car stereos), it seems the industry has reluctantly accepted ripping as normal practice. That said, in a recent US court case brought against a file-sharer, the head of litigation at Sony was still equating the act of ripping a CD with stealing, to much amusement from industry commentators.

The recent government-commissioned review of intellectual property has recommended that UK law be changed to permit the ripping of CDs for personal use; a consultation begins on 7 March. In countries that permit private copying, such as Germany, money is paid by the manufacturers of media cassette tapes, hard drives, blank CDs to songwriters' organisations, which distribute it. But, according to Adam Webb of British Music Rights, such levies weren't recommended by the review: "It was suggested instead that the price of CDs be raised, but we don't think that's going to work, considering the current market." Indeed, music consumers already consider CDs to be overpriced.

But, while the industry squabbles, you can have my personal permission to carry on ripping CDs. I know that would be a flimsy excuse in court, but to be honest I think the courts have bigger fish to fry.

Diagnosis required

Why are printer ink cartridges so expensive? And which companies provide the worst technical support? Email cyberclinic@independent.co.uk, or join the discussions on the daily technology blog, http://www.independent.co.uk/cyberclinic

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