Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

RIAA again claims that ripping CDs is illegal

It's your compact disc. You bought it. But the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) possibly the most abusive and greedy corporate consortium on the continent, wants total control over what you do with your music:
The RIAA has filed a brief in an Arizona U.S. District Court against Jeffrey and Pamela Howell, an average Joe and Jane couple who have ripped their CD collection to MP3s for easy sharing throughout their home and -- presumably -- iPods. The brief claims that ripping CDs to MP3s is a violation of copyright laws and the fair use doctrine.

The audacity of the RIAA's claim wouldn't be too surprising, given its penchant for overzealous attacks of digital media, if it weren't in direct contradiction of arguments made by RIAA lawyers in a case filed in 2005. In the case, MGM Vs. Grokster, representation from the RIAA explicitly said that making digital copies of music for personal use was protected.

Atlantic Vs. Howell is scheduled to have its first hearing on January 24. Here's hoping that this case gets tossed out, because if the courts find in favor of Atlantic, it will place all of us with digital audio devices on the RIAA's hit list.
The RIAA is actually suing the Howells not because they ripped CDs, but because it alleges they made copyrighted digital music files accessible through peer to peer (P2P) networks. Under current U.S. copyright law - which the industry wrote and the courts regularly enforce - it's illegal to share music across peer to peer networks if it wasn't explicitly released into the public domain or under a license that permits sharing and reproduction.

But now the RIAA is suddenly saying as an aside: You can't make any copies of the music you own, even if the copies are for your own personal use:
It is undisputed that Defendant possessed unauthorized copies of Plaintiffs' copyrighted sound recordings on his computer.


Virtually all of the sound recordings on Exhibit B are in the “.mp3” format. (Exhibit 10 to SOF, showing virtually all audio files with the “.mp3” extension.) Defendant admitted that he converted these sound recordings from their original format to the .mp3 format for his and his wife’s use.

The .mp3 format is a “compressed format [that] allows for rapid transmission of digital audio files from one computer to another by electronic mail or any other file transfer protocol.” Napster, 239 F.3d at 1011. Once Defendant converted Plaintiffs’ recording into the compressed .mp3 format and they are in his shared folder, they are no longer the authorized copies distributed by Plaintiffs.
This language flies in the face of what RIAA attorney Don Verrilli told the United States Supreme Court in MGM v. Grokster:
The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it's been on their website for some time now, that it's perfectly lawful to take a CD that you've purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod.
Perfectly lawful? How about perfectly illegal if we change our minds?
As part of the on-going DMCA rule-making proceedings, the RIAA and other copyright industry associations submitted a filing that included this gem as part of their argument that space-shifting and format-shifting do not count as noninfringing uses, even when you are talking about making copies of your own CDs:
"Nor does the fact that permission to make a copy in particular circumstances is often or even routinely granted, necessarily establish that the copying is a fair use when the copyright owner withholds that authorization. In this regard, the statement attributed to counsel for copyright owners in the MGM v. Grokster case is simply a statement about authorization, not about fair use."
Understand what that little excerpt means? Backing up your music library - ripping your compact discs to MP3 or another format - is only okay as long as the RIAA decides it is okay. It's NOT fair use, the RIAA contends.

You may do it with their "authorization". You may not do it if they decide to revoke that authorization.

The RIAA thinks it should have total control over the music that we legally purchase, and that's an outrage. Our existing copyright law, which was put together by corporate conglomerates, is a joke and needs to be completely overhauled.

Right now consumers have very few guaranteed protections; that needs to change. Our government exists to strengthen the common good, not help powerful corporations get more wealthy.

The RIAA's behavior is evidence enough that America desperately needs a new progressive technology and intellectual property policy.


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