(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)

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Asking permission for your own home movies

There’s nothing bad in adding some short clips or songs from commercial movies in your home movies, right? Wrong! In the United Kingdom, according to the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, copyright is infringed also when storing the copyrighted material in electronic format, even if it is only for private usage. In plain English: the police can go after you if you make backup copy of your regularly purchased videotapes or if you mix clips from a TV movie or talk show to your private holiday film.

At the end of 2006 the Gowers Review, a study on how to modernize these parts of UK law, included recommendations that private copying is allowed, but this doesn’t guarantee that such exceptions will find a place in future laws. Several other countries have laws similar to the current one in UK: is essential to act soon, in every country, to guarantee that the situation doesn’t get worse.

In the meantime, those who asked for permission to include copyrighted material in their own home movies found out that even an absolutely private and non-commercial usage is either completely forbidden or priced up to 900 USD dollars for a 15 second clip. Of course, you may rely on the fact that the police (and the movie studios) have more urgent things to do than getting authorizations to check your home movies. The fact remains, however: even ignoring the damage made to society as a whole, you can, and will, be sued if you violate these rules and the police find out for any reason.

Is this justified?

What is life like under the current regime? Let’s summarize:

  • purely artificial barriers often make it impossible to legally find or buy music that we loved when we were younger. It is also impossible to enjoy many old documentaries and old movies because nobody keeps them available at a fair price
  • it is illegal to spice up our own, private home movies with what we prefer
  • today’s children must use the Internet (consumerism always finds new targets) but cannot use it to share their stories, or make innocent fun of their heroes

All these absurd but true little stories are just a small part, the easier part to understand, of a titanic battle which is happening right now, one that can seriously screw up your and your children’s lives. There is much more at stake, however.

Our children are not losing just the freedoms that we all enjoyed. Many old movies or TV news shows have not been preserved properly by their producers and are still available only thanks to crimes, that is illegal copies. Today, for the first time in human history, we have the technological capability to record and pass on to future generations almost everything we (not some movie company or its sponsors) consider valuable, and to preserve it from loss and corruption as long as we want.We can’t leave all this to the mercy of the limited resources and changing business strategies of any company or group of companies.