Everybody’s a criminal now

The Recording Industry Association of America’s latest claim? It’s illegal to create copies of your own CDs and store them on your personal computer.

Happy new year. See you in jail.

Update: you’ll want to note this update from the Wash Post on this story. On the question of the RIAA’s prosecution of file-sharing, the larger issue here isn’t so much whether or not it’s wrong to duplicate and share copyrighted material (it is), but the draconian single-mindedness with which the RIAA has suddenly found religion about a private practice they worried little over (where were all the prosecutions during the DIY mixed-tape craze of the 80s?) until the internet and digital content provision started cutting into profits and challenging an old business model that the RIAA and its constituents have done done very little to reimagine in substantive terms. As it is, heavyhanded and selective enforcement only further reinforces the notion that the RIAA has no idea how to undertake an industry-wide effort to make music easier to buy digitally than to steal or (illegally) share.

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  1. Zack wrote:

    Now this has just gotten a little bit out of hand in my opinion. Being an artist myself I know that Cd sales have alot to do with your income. Maybe not so much in the SG world as the Secular world but never the less. This man has bought the cd. I’d say once he got that cd. It is HIS to do what ever HE wants to do with it. As long as he is not reproducing the cd and selling whats the big deal?!?!?

    This kinda makes me wonder though….what will this do to the world of MP3 plays and Ipods?!?!? I know on my itunes I have over 8000 songs…MOST were put there right from the cd…so am I a criminal now to?!? I just think this whole thing has gone too far….but hey…ya know this is just one mans opinion!

  2. Kyle wrote:

    I always find it amazingly stupid how the RIAA is completely alienating their own customers. “You can have our product, but you must do it OUR way or no way at all.” The result is, people are choosing “no way at all.”

    Good thing I just make cassette copies of all my music….no digital copyright infringement there!!!

  3. Aaron Swain wrote:

    Wow… I’m a felon…

  4. Videoguy wrote:

    The RIAA taking swings at fair use isn’t new. http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20060215-6190.html

    I’ve a feeling this chestnut has been wheeled out again after some crafty downloaders have probably tried to short-circuit an infringement claim by running out and purchasing CD’s and DVD’s after getting a love letter from the RIAA.

  5. Jim Webber wrote:

    The RIAA is getting pretty close to crossing some laws itself. As long as you are not sharing files with others, I don’t believe they will have a case. But then again, the right judge, well you know.

  6. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    The RIAA is insane.

    I dearly wish the Jammie Thomas case would get appealed to the Supreme Court. Even if she IS guilty of downloading songs illegally, it’s against the law to penalize someone for stealing to the degree that she was penalized. Someone should point that little fact out to the judge.

    What else could you possibly steal with a 99 cent value and be penalized over $9000 PER infraction? She wasn’t accused of distribution or anything of that nature. She merely stole the songs.

    They’re making a scapegoat out of her. If she had robbed a store of $20, it would be handled in a small claims court and her penalty would be to make restitution and pay the cost of court…with some small penalty perhaps thrown in..

    I wrote a blog entry regarding her case a few weeks ago:

  7. judi wrote:

    Like Kyle, #2, I’m so far only guilty of taping cassettes off my old (1960s anyone?) vinyl albums… I thought about getting one of those newfangled machines that will let me burn my records to CDs and even turn cassettes into digital files (gasp) on my computer… but even if I don’t yet go around with an mp3 player in my ear like some people, I think this whole RIAA thing is ridiculous. It reminds me of the group that prosecutes you if you sing “Happy Birthday” in a public place, or a Girl Scout camp, without paying a royalty first. I understand that composers and performers are entitled to be paid for their creative work; as a writer I expect not to be ripped off, either. But music is something that demands being shared in order to stay alive. You can’t keep it in a can and charge the Universe admission every time a couple of notes slip out!

  8. BL wrote:

    Next they’ll be telling us that we may only listen to the CD we puchased on special players and only in the privacy of our own home, what with listening to it in someone’s else’s home might be a violation of their rights. And Lord knows we better not loan it to a friend to hear….that’s theft right there.

  9. Zack wrote:

    call me crazy, but if are purchasing CD’s for PRIVATE use….how are radio stations getting their cds for PUBLIC use?!? I guess i’m a little confussed here… because a cd is a cd. and they are sharing it over PUBLIC air waves.

  10. CVH wrote:

    I read the same article Sunday in the Post and it’s surprising only in the lengths to which the RIAA is willing to go to try and intimidate consumers with the threat of legal action for doing what has always been considered an acceptable practice.

    We all know that record sales are down; record companies are operated by accountants, not musicians or creatives, and because they have failed to adjust their business models to accomodate changes in consumer buying and technological trends, they are becoming dinosaurs in the swamp that is the music business. The ‘war’ on illegal downloads and file-sharing isn’t enough; now they’re even choosing to target consumers who (in most cases) are only making a digital copy of music they have purchased to make it possible to play from their computer. Is it a legal right to make a copy? Technically, according to the letter of the law, no. But it’s been the spirit of the law and common sense that has guided everyone’s actions for the last 20 or 30 years. No more.

    BTW Zack, record companies give radio stations CDs or CD singles of artists’ music (or more frequently and ironically, the ability to download the songs) with the understanding that they will only be used for “promotional” use - that is, being played on the air. From that standpoint, it’s not the same use as a consumer going to Barnes and Noble and buying a CD.

    Until (as DBM hopes) some of these cases make it to a higher court for ruling there is little chance the RIAA’s intentions will change. They know they’re in a losing position but since there are millions and millions of dollars still at stake they’re probably going to continue this absurd course as long as they can. Because they can.

  11. Shawn wrote:

    Radio stations pay for broadcast licenses which allow them to legally broadcast songs (or at least, they’re supposed to).

  12. Zack wrote:

    Thanks for clearing that up everyone…You’d think I of all people would know that! lol I know somethings work differnt in Southern Gospel music. I knew that was how it worked in the big world but wasn’t for sure on everything else!

  13. Chuck Sims wrote:

    Sounds to me like the RIAA doesn’t have enough to do, and we all know about “job security” don’t we. Is this another witch hunt, or what? Go figure.

  14. cdguy wrote:

    I think there’s some faulty thinking going around on this subject. Although RIAA claims on it’s website that loading your cd’s into your computer is against the law/rules, that has not been tested in court. And just because I bought a cd, that doesn’t give me the right to do whatever I want with it. The law has been down the middle of this.

    The courts have held you can make copies for your own use, as long as nothing changes hand. You can’t loan your cd to a friend for him/her to make a copy, or make a copy for Aunt Sophie (’cause she can’t afford to buy a cd), or borrow your brother’s cd to make a copy. That’s the same principle that’s upheld in the case noted in the above-mentioned article. Song sharing.

    That would include transferring your old vinyl, 3-tracks, or cassettes to cd or digital files; transferring your digital files from your PC to your ipod; or burning songs from your PC onto a disc to listen to in the car. As long as nothing changes hands, it’s been deemed ok by the courts. Nothing more stingent has been tested in the courts.

    The case quoted in this article does not just say the lady only stole the songs. She was fined that heavily, because she SHARED the songs. So the analogy goes beyond stealing $20.

    I think, based on what the courts have done in the past, and even what this judgment is, it’s probably going to be difficult for RIAA to enforce it’s no uploading rule. But then, that’s just IMHO.

    As for the question about radio, yes, Shawn is correct. They are supposed to pay a licensing fee (equivalent of paying a royalty), based on their listenership. Those fees are then dispersed to the writers and publishers of the songs that are played. So, theoretically, no one is being cheated out of his/her rightful moneys. And because of this process, if the artist did not write the song, the artist often does not make as much money as the writer. (That’s not necessarily the case in gospel, but other genres, at least.) If fact, under the current process, artists receive no airplay royalties — only the writers and publishers.

    Hope that helps answer some of the questions, as I understand the situation.

  15. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Today I read a clarification on this issue. The RIAA isn’t taking a “ripping files to a computer is illegal” position. They’re responding to a judge’s request of whether or not the copies are “unauthorized.” “Unauthorized” isn’t the same as “illegal.” Authorization isn’t required to listen to your music whether it’s on the original disc or on your computer.

    Some of you may say that’s just semantics, but in fairness, there is a “fine line” (you can pay me later, Doug) there.

    For further clarification, it seems their big concern in this case is that the defendant had place his ripped files in his Kazaa shared folder…offering copyrighted files to others for download whenever he was online.

    (This site seems to think the shared folder charge is an afterthought inserted into the brief.)

    If the shared folder issue is the heart of their case, it seems they would be going after him with simple piracy charges…offering something to strangers that he didn’t have the legal right to offer. How his legally owned files came to be on his personal computer is really irrelevant to the question of whether or not he’s sharing them with the entire world.

    My question would be whether or not the RIAA had a court order to “wiretap” as it were, his personal activity on his own computer. If not, couldn’t he counter sue the RIAA for invasion of privacy?

  16. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Thanks for correcting my error. For some reason, I had failed to absorb that Jammie Thomas was charged with distribution of copyrighted materials, but you are correct. I’ll get that info added to my blog article.

    I would still point out, though, that the minimum fine for simple song theft according to the law is $750 per infraction. That’s the cost of the 99 cent product times 750, even if you merely avoided paying the 99 cents it would have cost you to buy it legally…simple theft. The Supreme Court has established that 500 times actual damages is unconstitutionally excessive, yet this law has a multiplier of 750 for the minimal infraction.

  17. John wrote:

    The Washington Post fumbled the ball on this story. If you read the supplemental brief (you can do so here: http://www.ilrweb.com/viewILRPDF.asp?filename=atlantic_howell_071207RIAASupplementalBrief) you’ll quickly see that it’s not about simply copying music to a computer; it’s making that music available to others though a “shared” folder and a P2P service.

    The point of the lawsuit is that this person was making copyrighted worked available to others and that it was in fact distributed to others without authorization or payment to the rights holders.

    I’m still admittedly a little perplexed why the RIAA gets such bad press for protecting the intellectual property rights of its members. The press doesn’t smear a retailer who prosecutes shoplifters. Why is the record industry such a pariah?

  18. cynical one wrote:

    John #17 — Why? Because the shoplifter steals tangible items. RIAA protects intellectual property, and most of us don’t understand what intellectual properties are, or why they should be protected.

  19. Ben Harris wrote:

    A few years ago after leaving a funeral with one of the members of our group, we had the occassion to run into a cousin of mine who happens to be a Baptist minister. When he saw the two of us he was very eager to tell us how much he enjoyed our latest CD. He enjoyed it so much that he had copied it for many of his church members so they too could enjoy it. I about lost it, and proceeded to tell him why what he had done was wrong, and was in fact stealing. He had never looked at it that way. Now on another note, when labels sell sound tracks to groups and they record a CD of their own using these sound tracks, no one bothers to pay the musicians again, nor the studio, the producer or the arranger. This too is illegal and the musicians union has vowed to put a stop to it in 2008. I say it is about time.

  20. Zack wrote:

    AMEN Ben!!!! PREACH ON!!! lol

  21. Charles Brady wrote:

    Ben said:
    “when labels sell sound tracks to groups and they record a CD of their own using these sound tracks, no one bothers to pay the musicians again, nor the studio, the producer or the arranger”

    Ben I think that all depends on who owns the music. If the label pays the session players as a “work for hire” then the labels own the tracks and can do what they want with them. Including leasing the tracks to other artists for projects. This is a very common practice. Maybe what you meant was when a group pays 10 bucks for a performance track and then think they have the right to steal it and use it on their own recording. Now that is stealing and needs to be stopped.

    I don’t recall meeting many “Union” players in the SG studio’s I have visited. Are there any?

  22. Ben Harris wrote:

    Charles I meant just as it sounded. When a recorded work is re-used, re-issued, or sold for re-use, the studio musicians are supposed to be paid again. This is union regulations. The labels do not own the intellectual work or art of the studio musicians. They were hired for a session and paid wages for either demo, limited or master scale, and that gives the label the right to use the intellectual work for that project only. Selling or leasing tracks is actually legal grounds for the musicians union to take action against the person who violated the contract. As to union players on SG sessions…every session I work on has union musicians and union contracts.

  23. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    This blog writer makes a great point…she’s talking about Hollywood rather than the music industry, but the same logic applies to a certain degree.

    “All I could think of was the ludicrous hypocrisy of the ‘piracy is stealing’ campaign Hollywood keeps running. Make stealing look hip and cool in movie after movie, grind morals down into the dust and make good folk look square…then turn around and tell people stealing from you is bad. Uh…yeah.”

  24. John wrote:

    “the RIAA has no idea how to undertake an industry-wide effort to make music easier to buy digitally than to steal or (illegally) share”

    Downloading music from iTunes or another legal site is not technically more difficult than downloading from a P2P site. So does “easier” equal “free”? If not, what are you really trying to say?

    NPR got the writer of the WP story together with the president of the RIAA for a very interesting conversation. More here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/talk/2008/01/rip_this_and_sue_that.html

  25. gsmooth wrote:

    Ben, when you re-use a track, how do you pay the musicians? The only mechanical royalties I’ve ever paid was to the owners or the publishers.

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