Fair use of ripped CDs, and charity shops

27 July 2005

While dropping by my local Oxfam bookshop today, I noticed a wee notice in the door that said along the lines of: “Upgraded to an MP3 player? Then why not donate your old unwanted CDs to us?” While this is perhaps an eminently nice sentiment and innocuous to boot, to me this looks like it might break copyright law. For while ripping personal copies of your own CDs onto MP3 for use on the move or as backup falls under “fair use“, if the original then moves into someone else’s hands, as the MP3 is no longer a duplicate of something you own, it’s no longer fair use and so your copy is illegal. I think. (I am not a lawyer, after all) Of course, while selling on the old CD is probably a definite no-no, I don’t know whether donating it to charity is the same, but I think it might be – and you know how horrible intellectual property lawyers can get. Anyone care to advise?


One Response

Have a look at the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents act; it’s illegal to rip your CDs in the first place in the UK, since we don’t have a concept of fair use (we do have “fair dealing”, but it doesn’t cover that). The ethics of doing so — and the ethics of doing so and then selling the CDs again, or getting a charity to do so — are entirely up to you, of course. Personally I’d rather the artists got paid once for each person/family with copies, so I wouldn’t donate ripped CDs to charity.

Of course, it’s possible that Oxfam just meant “if you’re now buying new music online, then give us the CDs you no longer listen to”, but I suspect your interpretation’s correctly…