Monday, March 12, 2007

The RIAA and the polyphonic pirate

Doug Morris, CEO of Universal Music (a key member of the RIAA), there's only one way to think of MP3 players.
"These devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they [the users] all know it."
I took a look at what's on my iPod to see how much truth there was in Mr. Morris' allegation on a personal level. I currently store about 3,800 tracks on my 20GB iPod (have to save some room for podcasts, you know). Of those tracks, I have approximately 450 tracks legally downloaded directly from independent artist and label websites. None of these are RIAA members.

I have 411 classical selections, pulled from 263 different CDs in my possession. Only 60 of those CDs are from RIAA members, or about 22%..

Of the remaining songs (about 2,900), I've pulled selections from 425 albums, of which 260 are from RIAA member labels. So approximately 120 classical tracks and 1,450 songs are from RIAA member labels, or roughly 41% of my iPod's content.

And where did those albums come from? My own collection. Some I purchased new, some used, some I picked up at trade shows.

So one might conclude that Mr. Morris is wrong and my iPod is hardly "a repository of stolen music." And the RIAA position in testimony before the Supreme Court in 2005 would agree.
"The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it's been on their website for some time now, that it's perfectly lawful to take a CD that you've purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod."

Fast forward to 2006, though, and the RIAA sings a different DRM-protected tune:

"Nor does the fact that permission to make a copy in particular circumstances is often or even routinely granted, necessarily establish that the copying is a fair use when the copyright owner withholds that authorization.

Translation: Unless you get permission from the record companies, ripping CDs to a computer is not considered fair use, and is therefore unauthorized copying.

A simple shift of semantics has turned me from good citizen to desperate criminal. Shiver me timbers! But to confuse the issue even further, according to the RIAA's own website:
"If you choose to take your own CDs and make copies for yourself on your computer or portable music player, that's great. It's your music and we want you to enjoy it at home, at work, in the car and on the jogging trail."
So perhaps I'm not such a blackguard after all -- for the moment.

- Ralph

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