And you thought the only ones who needed to worry were the illegal file-sharers? After reading this article, think again:

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.

“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.”

18 Responses to “Ripped your Adams CDs to your computer? The RIAA says pay up.”
  1. david toub says:

    Sounds like a shakedown to me, Steve. I doubt legally the RIAA could do jack squat. They’ve previously maintained that it is legal to make copies of digital music files for personal use. The DMCA does not apply to CDs, just DVDs (which technically speaking, one cannot legally copy for personal use). If this were to apply to CDs and digital music files in general, then every MP3 player would constitute an illegal act unless it were entirely populated by either copy-protected files (via DRM) or contained files legally downloaded (and one would have to retain the proof of these purchases) for exclusive use on an MP3 player. The DRM that Apple uses, for example, expressly permits CDs to be burned and transfer to an unlimited number of iPods (as well as up to 5 computers). So I think the RIAA letter is nonsense. Even if they could do anything, it would be hogwash. If someone purchases an audio file, it is governed by “reasonable use” and that owner can do with it whatever a “reasonable person” would do with it.

  2. David Rakowski says:

    Strange this thing. Since every mp3 player on the market, and every cell phone that allows you to play your own legally purchased music requires you to rip the music from the CD to your own computer, and then transfer it from your computer to your player, then the RIAA’s lawyers are in essence saying that every owner of an mp3 player is a criminal, and by extension, all the mp3 makers require the owners of their hardware to become criminals in order to use them. I’m pretty sure there’s enough money in the pockets in the makers of the mp3 players and cell phones to stomp this one several miles into the ground.

    There’s also this “Home Recording Act” that, last time I checked, was still in effect.

  3. Steve Layton says:

    It’s that “last time I checked” thing, David R., that I hope we don’t let sneak away. There have been lots of things going on in the supposed “battle” of copyright laws this past year or two, a lot of it sadly almost off most people’s radar. Sadly, because it can directly affect so many of us.

    A lot of the arguments are arcane, and often in the short term seem kind of “so what”?; part of that is by corporate intention, getting things in the through the back door and then using these as precedents. As messy, bloated and confused as the actual copyright laws have become, some of the things the RIAA have been pulling aren’t so much attempts to follow it as to make it up into whatever best suits their interest. Using civil suits, they’ve basically been extorting money from people rarely ever even proved guilty of any infringement, then using those people’s acquiescence as evidence for more stringent restrictions and penalties.

    Not every plaintiff or judge has been cowed or fooled, and the RIAA has begun to suffer a few countersuits and slaps on their hands; but big corporate interests like this are like weeds: they’ll continue to probe every crack and crevice looking for anything that expands or locks down their own interest and profit. And of course, all in the name of the “artist”…

  4. david toub says:

    If they really gave a shit about the “artist,” they’d make sure the record labels upped the percentages awarded to composers and performers.

    The entire copyright/IP situation is ridiculous, and it only protects the corporations. Most innovations come from small companies or small groups of individuals. Copyright laws are really protecting the bigger companies who think nothing of slapping someone with a lawsuit all for having “Pod” in their product name or for some inadvertent and minor “infringement.” What’s interesting is that when the big companies get hit with copyright-related suits, they bitch and moan. Pretty hypocritical, if you ask me.

  5. Sparky P. says:

    So why doesn’t the RIAA suggest an alternative, such as one time use discs (you can play it only once, then it self-destructs, a la Mr. Phelps’ tape recorder on “Mission: Impossible”), or make consumers purchase multiple copies for “specific use” (such as one copy that can only be played on one particular player and only for, say, an after-work cocktail hour and another copy for bedtime usage). And do we have to actually listen to the discs after purchase (for example, I bought an Andrea Boccelli disc strictly to use as a coaster for my drinks; I also purchased a Celine Dion disc that is working as a trivit for hot sauce pans).

  6. It’s all just FUD. Forget about it. They’ve lost and now they’re just trying to confuse.

  7. Rob Deemer says:

    Maybe someone could show the folks at RIAA this informative video…Andrew Dubber calls it possibly the best use of 20 minutes of your life. I’m inclined to agree…

    http://newmusicstrategies.com/2007/11/08/lessig-talks-at-ted/

  8. Tom Myron says:

    I’m with Harrington. They’re on a fishing expedition & they’ve got deep pockets.

  9. Steve Layton says:

    Though they may just end up fishing for any one of us, no matter if we’ve ever file-shared or not. Innocent, so no worries, right? Except that if you don’t want to pay them a few thousand dollars they demand in a letter you receive out of the blue, you only need to spend a few tens of thousands of dollars to defend yourself in a civil suit. A suit that could be dropped by them at any moment, if their claim starts looking bad, but which will still end up costing you your own thousands to pay off your own defense. For the Kafka-esque extent of their “fishing expedition”, pockets, and tactics, this link is provides a good overview:

    http://info.riaalawsuits.us/

  10. Somehow, I wonder when Apple will step up to the plate on this one. Basically, their current empire rests on the whole iPod/iTunes/iPhone technology, which the RIAA is calling into question. Wouldn’t it be a matter of time before Apple feels that the RIAA is infringing on their business operations?

  11. There’s been a follow-up to this story, which is that the files were in a public sharing folder. RIAA hooks their typically pitiful case on that.

    Dennis

  12. Steve Layton says:

    Gee Dennis, I guess if I put my CDs on a table outside my front door with a “FREE, TAKE ONE” sign on it, they’ll be slapping an infringement suit on me in no time! :-)

  13. Tom Myron says:

    Hey, don’t get me wrong, the term “fishing expedition” implies that fish are gonna die. Shaking down the customer base is what lawyers (& gangsters for that matter) call “an attention getter”. My hunch is that the RIAA, in unleashing a particularly virulent form of litigator on Apple’s customers, is angling to ultimately shake Apple itself down for a big settlement. These are guys who have no illusions about seeing a big pay day inside of a courtroom.

  14. Yeah, Steve, I’m so sick of the whole RIAA barn-door litigation thing. It seems to me that all the licensing agencies and copyright litigators have destroyed what they intended to preserve: respect and reward for the effort of creation. I thought copyright was a pretty reasonable concept until it became a corporate weapon. Once the DMCA arrived, all reasonableness was done with pretty much for good. Don’t, as they say, get me started. :)

    Dennis

  15. Steve Layton says:

    *Very* slightly, Kyle. Notice the part where the Sony/BMG attorney in their testimony in a case this past fall tried to make the same claim. Beyond the lawsuits, these are the guys lobbying in D.C., and one reason the copyright/royalty laws keep getting more and more out-of-whack for anyone other than Big Music.

  16. Gary Harmon says:

    What about the complete copy in the wetware in my head?

  17. Steve Layton says:

    Funny you should mention that, Gary (or, should I mention this is funny?):

    http://www.newstarget.com/022437.html

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