Ugh. This may just be a poorly written article, or it may be just another cleverly written agenda item planted by a willing reporter:
Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.
The industry's lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are "unauthorized copies" of copyrighted recordings.
A number of bloggers have read that as saying that the RIAA is suing Jeffrey Howell for having personal copies of CDs he had bought stored on his computer. At first blush that's what I thought also. The headline, with its "goes after personal use" language, and just the way the article is written seems to say that. The obvious question bugged me though: If the music files were on his PC for personal use, how did the RIAA find out about them?
A little digging quickly shows that the RIAA is not suing Howell because he had "unauthorized copies" of music on his PC, they are suing because he used Kazaa to share those files over the Internet, clearly violating copyright law. You can see a couple of the court docs in pdf here and here. Somehow the WaPo reporter left out that little detail. To be fair to the writer, he doesn't actually say that Howell was being sued for copying music to his PC. The entire article seems to be constructed to imply that though, and I can see how many people would get that impression. Look at the very next quote:
"I couldn't believe it when I read that," says Ray Beckerman, a New York lawyer who represents six clients who have been sued by the RIAA. "The basic principle in the law is that you have to distribute actual physical copies to be guilty of violating copyright. But recently, the industry has been going around saying that even a personal copy on your computer is a violation."
Well, Jeffrey Howell in fact did distribute copies over the Internet, once again something the reporter left out. I find it hard to believe he didn't know that.
As far as the RIAA referring to personal copies being "unauthorized copies", I call bullshit on it even being a serious issue. Ever. When the RIAA uses that term it sounds like simple legal CYA to cover their rights to me. In fact, they know they have no way of even policing something like that and their own website says:
It’s okay to copy music onto an analog cassette, but not for commercial purposes.
It’s also okay to copy music onto special Audio CD-R’s, mini-discs, and digital tapes (because royalties have been paid on them) – but, again, not for commercial purposes.
Beyond that, there’s no legal "right" to copy the copyrighted music on a CD onto a CD-R. However, burning a copy of CD onto a CD-R, or transferring a copy onto your computer hard drive or your portable music player, won’t usually raise concerns so long as:
The copy is made from an authorized original CD that you legitimately own
The copy is just for your personal use. It’s not a personal use – in fact, it’s illegal – to give away the copy or lend it to others for copying.
The RIAA is not going to go after people for ripping a CD that they purchased and putting the files on their own ipod. If they ever did go that crazy I doubt they would win against a jury. They're not even likely to go after you for making that mix CD for that special someone. How are they even going to find out? No, they are going after dumbasses that choose to illegally share music over the Internet, in effect, high-tech pirates.
Look, I have no great love for the record companies. Over many years they have given many people very good reasons to despise them. The bottom line here though, is that they are not going after personal use. That's just hysterical ranting meant to further demonize the RIAA and it appears quite a few folks are falling for it. And let's face it, distributing unauthorized copies of copyright work is stealing. People can rationalize it all they want by demonizing the record company or the publisher or whomever. It's still stealing though. God forbid any of those people create something of value and then get it ripped off. They might learn firsthand the old line about a pie in the face: It stops being funny when it starts being you.