Almost one in ten consumers is breaking the law by copying their digital videos (such as DVDs) onto devices like iPods and tablets, according to research by CHOICE.

Music and movies are the wallpaper of our digital lives, but copyright law hasn't kept up with the way we want to enjoy our entertainment.

Australians copying a digital format video that they've bought or already own are in breach of copyright laws, even if the copy's only for personal use. However, 9% of Australians say they've done just that in the past year, and 57% of us believe it's legal to do.

Behind the times

Back in 1987, more than half of Australian households had a VCR, but recording TV shows at home didn't become legal until 2006. By then, 83% of us had DVD players, and Apple had already been selling movies and TV shows on iTunes for a year.

Today, newer technologies like cloud computing are an added complication. When music or movies are kept in the cloud, they're stored on a computer that you don't actually own. Storing copyright material – like songs ripped from CDs you own or movies you've bought from iTunes – in the cloud is technically illegal. However, according to our survey, almost a quarter (22%) of consumers are using cloud storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox like this.

Time for copyright reform

Australia's rigid approach to copyright means that the law needs to be constantly amended to address issues as they come up. Australian copyright law as it stands doesn't take into account existing technologies, let alone anticipate new ones.

This is why CHOICE supports Fair Use copyright, which will allow consumers greater use of the content they legally own, while at the same time protecting creators and artists. America has a Fair Use system, and is one of the largest producers of music, movies, and books in the world.

This new approach protects copyrighted materials against infringement or uses which will significantly affect sales of those products, while still allowing for everyday use of the things that you own. Fair Use has been recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission following an exhaustive review, which received more than 800 submissions from a variety of stakeholders.

Current laws are failing Australians, and no longer match what consumers think they should be able to do. For example, 60% of consumers in our survey agree that they should able to transfer content they legally own to as many devices as they own. In Australia this is only legal for certain types of content, like analogue photos and films, and usually only for a limited number of copies.

Copyright: what you need to know

  • Copyright protection is free and applies automatically when material is created.
  • It's a legal protection for people who invest their time, talent and other resources in creating new cultural and educational material that benefits society.
  • It doesn't need to be registered in Australia.
  • Copyright does not protect ideas, information, styles, techniques, names, titles or slogans.
  • There are no general exemptions from copyright law for non-profit organisations.
  • Copyright law applies to actions that take place in Australia, even if the material used was created or first published in another country.
  • In Australia, copyright generally lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years.