Is Queen Liz a copyright infringer (and Obama, for that matter)?

You may have read that President Obama has given Queen Elizabeth an iPod with 40 show tunes on it. Well, that’s better than the set of region one DVDs he gave Gordon Brown, but yet again as the EFF have pointed out Obama has stepped right into the territory of copyright infringement, and forced UK premiers to risk their reputations by potentially breaking the law.

Well, maybe not, as nobody in their right minds takes this sort of copyright infringement seriously. Except of course lawyers who construct 9,000 word legal contracts for iTunes, and rights holders, who resist legal change as a sort of bargaining chip to extract other concessions, like online enforcement, or levies on tapes, CDs or hard drives.

Campaigners like the EFF and the Open Rights Group, however believe that copyright law needs to be simple and clear, and reflect users’ needs, if it isn’t going to be a joke.

We asked our legal experts for a quick opinion as to whether the Queen and Obama were infringing copyright. It’s very unclear. Did Obama buy her a CD, and transfer the songs? In the UK, that would be a infringement, but not in the US.

Does the US iTunes Store allow you to buy songs in the US and give them to a UK user? Probably not, but you have to wade through the 9,000 word contract to find out.

Do you ‘own’ the songs you’ve bought, entitling you to give them to someone else? Definitely not.

Of course, Obama might have been really careful about all this, and made sure his staff spent time ensuring there was no copyright infringement. It’d be good to know that his diplomatic staff were investing their time avoiding diplomatic copyright incidents, rather than, let’s say, working on a common position for a Middle East peace process. Which brings us back to the point: copyright needs to be simple and clear, and not get in the way of doing things even the US President seems to think are acceptable behaviour.