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The Pile: Thoughts, Life, and Photography of Joshua Davis

RIAA: Saving CDs To Computer Is Illegal

Copyright law was never intended to prop dieing business models. It was designed to promote societal advancement. The RIAA doesn’t understand that. The Washington Post has an article which tells of a man being sued for ripping songs from CDs he purchased to his computer for personal use only. They claim he needs to buy another copy of the song to use it on his computer.

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.

Copyright law, when invented by George Washington lasted a maximum of 30 years, but usually only 15. It was designed so that authors, artists, and scientists wouldn’t have to compete against their own work if say, someone else decided they could sell a cheaper copy of an authors book. Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Conor said:

The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but [t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts. To this end, copyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work. This result is neither unfair nor unfortunate. It is the means by which copyright advances the progress of science and art.

Propping up the 20 year old model of selling $15 CDs with only a few good tracks is clearly not advancing science, the arts, or business innovation. Especially when there are solutions like iTunes and Amazon MP3 where consumers can legally download an album for less than $10.

Previous cases in which defendants where sued for saving TV programs to VHS tapes for viewing at a later date where found to be under the fair use provision, so I can only hope the courts will use this same wisdom in this case.

But the real issue is not what the judges will do, it is a problem with American copyright law. At dozens of pages lawyers must specialize in one facet of copyright law. Expiration dates are complicated, and what fair use is and isn’t is overly convoluted. Of course the workman is worth of his wages, but the consumer needs protections too. Let’s go back to George Washington’s idea of 30 years and no one else can sell or distribute the copyright holders work.

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Filed under: American Politics, Creative Commons, History, Technology

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