Under current UK law, it is not legal to make copies of anything under copyright without the copyright owner's permission. This includes DVDs, Blu-rays, CDs, photos, books and any other copyrighted material.
It is illegal to make any form of backup of something under copyright without permission. This includes:
- Ripping to your computer.
- Creating a backup disc or spare copy
- Copying onto an MP3 player.
As the law stands, this applies even if you bought the original DVD, CD, etc, and are just making a copy for your own private use.
Exceptions and Fair Use
Certain exceptions stand under the category of "fair dealing", commonly referred to as fair use. This includes recording television programs to watch at a different time and making a backup copy of computer software.
More details can be found here:The UK Copyright Centre - UK Copyright Law
Will the law change?
The government has indicated support for certain changes to UK copyright law. The way people use and store media has changed dramatically since the laws were originally created.
These legal updates will apply to "non–commercial" copies; i.e. for personal use only. This is to make a clear distinction between piracy and legitimate home use. It is likely the UK government will wait for the European Parliament to define what constitutes "non–commercial" use before changing the law.
Permissions and DRM
Some products give you permission to make copies; for example, "freeware" and "shareware" computer programs. In these cases, the conditions you can make backups or copies under will be clearly stated on the product or in an included licence.
Most DVDs and Blu-rays feature copy protection to prevent you making backups, but some include a "digital version" for use on your computer or MP3 player. How you can use these will be indicated on the packaging.
Some products are designed to be downloaded on one device and used on another; for example, e-books. These may feature Digital Rights Management (DRM), a copyright protection feature designed to limit the number of times a file can be transferred to a device.
How can you act within the law?
Commercial piracy - copying material and selling it - is a major concern for the law, as is any form of digital sharing of copyrighted material. For example, uploading or downloading a film from a file-sharing website. However, files from these sites can turn out to be viruses or trojans, and there have been several cases of people being prosecuted for sharing material on these sites.
It's important to point out that the law is much more concerned with these sort of activities than an individual transferring a CD they bought onto their own MP3 player, even though it is technically illegal.
If you are still concerned, check any copyright notices on the packaging of products you have bought before making backup copies or transferring them to another device. For example, the copyright holder may grant you permission to copy to an MP3 player.