Much has been made in the media this week about the news that the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) has announced, through one of their lawsuits, that they now consider it illegal for you to copy music from a CD you have purchased to your own computer, for your own personal use.
The one thing that everyone seems to be overlooking is that the RIAA has not said this at all. In fact, they have explicitly stated that they are not concerned with people copying music to their computer (or iPod, or other personal MP3 player) for their own personal use.
The brouhaha started when Marc Fisher, a journalist with the Washington Post, wrote a blog post on his Wash Post blog, claiming that in the RIAA’s newest lawsuit, in which they are suing Mr. Jeffrey Howell for unauthorized distribution (filesharing) of copyrighted material (music), the RIAA was saying to consumers, essentially, “Even If You Bought The CD, You’re Still A Crook” (that’s the title of Fisher’s blog post). In the blog post, Fisher wrote that the RIAA claims “that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.”
The problem with what Fisher wrote is that it is worse than hyperbole - it is pure fiction. In fact, what the lawsuit says is that the defendant (Howell) made a copy of his music and then put it in the shared folder. In other words, rather than keeping the copies in his own person, private directory (folder) on his computer, he put it in the place where you put files that you are going to share - the “shared folder”. And this wasn’t just any shared folder - it was his shared folder for Kazaa - a program designed specifically to share files with others.
The next day, an article by Fisher appeared in the Washington Post, and in that article, entitled “Download Uproar: Record Industry Goes After Personal Use”, Fisher again repeated the fiction that the RIAA is claiming “that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.” (Yep, he stated the same - wrong - thing in both his blog post and his article.)
Not only is it fiction that the RIAA is going after someone simply for transferring music to his computer, but the very headline of the article - suggesting that the RIAA is going after copying for ‘personal use’, is a fiction.
In short, that’s not what the lawsuit says at all, and even a cursory reading by a layperson makes that clear. Here is the relevant (and yet surprisingly short) paragraph of the lawsuit, which Fisher either failed to understand - or twisted to suit his own purpose (you be the judge - either way it shows an unconscionable lack of ethical rigor for someone writing for such a prestigious and influential outlet as the Washington Post). We are presenting here the paragraph in its full text; while most other reports on this issue have removed extraneous wording, we are leaving it in so that you can see all of the language in its full context:
“Defendant admitted that he converted these sound recordings from their original format to the .mp3 format for his and his wife’s use. (Howell Dep. 107:24 to 110:2; 114:1 to 116:16). The .mp3 format is a “compressed format [that] allows for rapid transmission of digital audio files from one computer to another by electronic mail or any other file transfer protocol.” Napster, 239 F.3d at 1011. Once Defendant converted Plaintiffs’ recording into the compressed .mp3 format and they are in his shared folder, they are no longer the authorized copies distributed by Plaintiffs. ”
Now, Marc Fisher, in both his blog post and his Washington Post article, relies heavily on the first sentence - and completely ignores the last sentence.
In Fisher’s world, the important point - and, he claims, the reason for the lawsuit - is that Howell made copies of some music “for his and his wife’s use.” He completely neglects the part where Howell converted the music to MP3 and put the copies in his Kazaa shared folder.
Which is too bad, because that is precisely what the lawsuit is actually about.
In short, the RIAA is not going after people who make copies of music for their own personal use - for example people who rip CDs to their computer for use on their iPod or MP3 player.
But there is no need to take our word for it. Because in an interview on NPR today, in which Marc Fisher and RIAA President Cary Sherman were brought head-to-head, Sherman said - very pointedly - that the RIAA is not interested in going after people who copy music to their computer (or their music player) for personal use.
Sherman stopped short of saying that it was legal for people to make personal copies - and Fisher, who refused to acknowledge that he had misreported the issue and was, uh, you know, wrong - attempted to deflect the attention from his wrongness by making Sherman wrong for not saying that it was legal to make personal copies - but you know, it isn’t Sherman’s place to say that it is legal - he’s neither a lawyer or a law maker, and that’s a matter of interpretation of copyright law.
But he did say, clearly and publicly, that the RIAA isn’t interested in people who copy music for their own personal use, and that’s good enough for us, even if it isn’t for Marc Fisher and his employer, the Washington Post.