I'm not usually very interested in UK Chancellor Gordon Brown's pre-budget speeches. But this time he's announced changes that will affect every gadget lover: a crackdown on piracy. He wants to get his hands on the tax millions he's missing out on from bootleg CD and DVD sales - and the more dubious lost income from filesharing (I'm not sure that filesharers would actually buy most of the stuff they download for free - they take it because it's there).
The UK's copyright laws are already pretty strict - you can't legally rip a CD or DVD over here - so my initial fears were that gadget lovers like myself would be targetted for wanting to, say, use a PSP to watch a rip of a DVD we already own. But it seems Brown's copyright stick (a tightening of the law and more money for Trading Standards to enforce it) will come with a carrot – a liberalisation that will allow copying for personal use.
Details are sketchy right now, but if Brown implements the recommendations of the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property then CD rips will be allowed. Does that make any difference when people rip CDs anyway, without Judge Dredd appearing to blow them away? Perhaps not, but it's good to have the law on your side.
More interestingly, the changes may even sampling of copyright works if it doesn't detract from the value of the original material (the report is 150 pages long... I'll try and get a chance to read it soon!). Would this mean Dangermouse's Jay-Z-meets-The-Beatles mashup masterpiece, the Grey Album, would be legal? I sure hope so.
However, DVD rips are less likely to be legalised - legislation already in place makes it a criminal offence to circumvent copy protection mechanisms, such as the CSS system that prevents DVDs from being copied.
Finally, Gower has recommended that the current 50-year protection for copyright material and performers rights should not be extended. But we'll have to wait a few years for a European ruling before we start to see some bargain-bin Elvis downloads appearing on the web.