February 23, 2006

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Techie: Go directly to iJail
All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Ever transfer songs from a CD you bought to your iPod? Prepare to have your house invaded by federal agents.

OK, that’s a little extreme. But if the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has its way, that little activity you thought was perfectly legal could put you on America’s Most Wanted.

The RIAA, which represents the major music labels, recently argued that at present, permission to copy music to an MP3 player or other format is “often or even ‘routinely’ granted,” and that such permission doesn’t necessarily mean that a copyright holder wouldn’t be perfectly within its rights to withhold that permission.

Quick, check the liner notes of all your CDs. Anyone who e-mails me a scan of a major label album specifically giving permission to rip the music to an MP3 player wins a special prize.

I don’t expect to have to give anyone a prize (which, let’s face it, would probably consist of a “Congratulations!” e-card or something). The fact is, that permission to copy isn’t ever explicitly granted. It’s implicit in something called the Doctrine of Fair Use. Courts have found for decades that techniques for time-shifting (taping Olympic ice dancing on your VCR to watch the next morning) and space-shifting (putting the White Album on cassette so you can listen to it in your car) are perfectly legitimate, legal activities. It’s also been established that making a backup copy of your media is legal.

A few years ago, though, Congress passed something called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In short, this legislation said, “Computers make it really easy to make perfect digital copies of stuff. Oh crap.” And the industry has been proposing new restrictions on Fair Use ever since.

“The [Copyright] Register was right in 2003 to be ‘skeptical’ of the merits of any fair use analysis that asserts that space-shifting or format-shifting is a noninfringing use,” says a filing submitted by the RIAA in DMCA rule-making proceedings recently. “This is particularly the case in today’s market, where inexpensive legitimate digital copies of most types of works are readily available, and increasingly can be obtained through online download services.”

Simply put, the RIAA is saying that since you can buy your album again from iTunes, you shouldn’t be allowed to rip it to your iPod. If this sounds a little unfair, well, life isn’t fair, cupcake, and laws in a liberal democracy have absolutely no role in making it such.

Speaking of the White Album, my copy, which I bought in a consignment store a few years back, was stolen. Can I get a backup hookup?

 Comments? Thoughts? Discuss these articles and more at hippoflea.com

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