Thursday, January 03, 2008

RIAA — more to the story

Aha! I wrote yesterday that there must be more to the story of a man being sued for simply copying music he had purchased onto his computer — and there is.

From Engadget:

it turns out that Jeffery [Howell] isn't actually being sued for ripping CDs, like the Washington Post and several other sources have reported, but for plain old illegal downloading.

And, from the blog of William Patry, Senior Copyright Counsel to Google:
it is here that the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] is making the point that placing the mp3 files into the share folder is what makes the copy unauthorized. The RIAA is not saying that the mere format copying of a CD to an mp3 file that resides only on one's hard drive and is never shared is infringement. This is a huge distinction and is surprising the Post didn't understand it. The brief also goes on to allege in great detail that the copies placed in the shared folder were actually disseminated from Howell's computer, thereby stating a traditional violation of the distribution right, even aside from the making available/deemed distribution theory.

However, from Marc Fisher's column in the Washington Post:
The Howell case was not the first time the industry has argued that making a personal copy from a legally purchased CD is illegal. At the Thomas trial in Minnesota, Sony BMG's chief of litigation, Jennifer Pariser, testified that "when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." Copying a song you bought is "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy,' " she said.

Patry notes the danger inherent in this view:
the rhetoric of theft and counterfeiting are being dangerously used to cover all unlicensed activity, whether it is fair use (in the case of copying for personal use), or any other use content owners don't like. Everyone else's use of a copyrighted work is now deemed by some content owners to be infringing unless they OK it.

This new rhetoric of "everything anyone does without our permission is stealing" is well worth noting at every occasion and well worth challenging. It is the rhetoric of copyright as an ancient property right, permitting copyright owners to control all uses as a natural right; the converse is that everyone else is an immoral thief.

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