RIAA now saying that you can’t legally rip CDs you own to your PC.

Those crazy bastards at the RIAA have finally gone off the deep end. In an ongoing lawsuit they are now claiming that ripping a CD which you legally purchased is a violation of copyright law regardless of whether or not you actually distribute the files to anyone else:

Download Uproar: Record Industry Goes After Personal Use – washingtonpost.com

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.

“I couldn’t believe it when I read that,” says Ray Beckerman, a New York lawyer who represents six clients who have been sued by the RIAA. “The basic principle in the law is that you have to distribute actual physical copies to be guilty of violating copyright. But recently, the industry has been going around saying that even a personal copy on your computer is a violation.”

RIAA’s hard-line position seems clear. Its Web site says: “If you make unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings, you’re stealing. You’re breaking the law and you could be held legally liable for thousands of dollars in damages.”

Whether customers may copy their CDs onto their computers—an act at the very heart of the digital revolution—has a murky legal foundation, the RIAA argues. The industry’s own Web site says that making a personal copy of a CD that you bought legitimately may not be a legal right, but it “won’t usually raise concerns,” as long as you don’t give away the music or lend it to anyone.

The Howell case was not the first time the industry has argued that making a personal copy from a legally purchased CD is illegal. At the Thomas trial in Minnesota, Sony BMG’s chief of litigation, Jennifer Pariser, testified that “when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.” Copying a song you bought is “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy,’ ” she said.

The industry “will continue to bring lawsuits” against those who “ignore years of warnings,” RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said in a statement. “It’s not our first choice, but it’s a necessary part of the equation. There are consequences for breaking the law.” And, perhaps, for firing up your computer.

So it’s basically the RIAA’s position that if you want to have a digital copy of your music to put on your PC or play on your iPod then you’d best be ready to pony up the additional cost of buying the files from an approved retailer because ripping them off that CD you spent money on is against the law.

Given the RIAA’s attitude and tactics it should be no wonder then that album sales are down a whopping 20% over last Christmas:

To some music lovers, the fact that Josh Groban’s Noel was the highest-selling album of 2007 is all the proof they need that major-label music is dying. To shareholders and label execs, though, the numbers are more important, and the numbers are grim: music sales are down 21 percent this Christmas season.

The recent news suggests that people are turning away from the CD as a Christmas present, due in large part to the rise of online music services like iTunes, eMusic, and the Amazon MP3 shop. Now that non-DRMed music is widely available from many popular artists, giving the gift of digital downloads can be an attractive option for holiday shoppers. Certainly it’s becoming more mainstream; even my local supermarket now stocks iTunes gift cards.

Music buying has certainly been migrating online, and the spectacular decline of CD sales is putting extra pressure on labels to move more online copies of the music they publish. This is clearly one of the reasons that Warner, traditionally a staunch DRM defender, agreed to strip DRM from its tracks offered on Amazon; it needed to do something (anything) to shore up flagging sales.

In the future it may not matter if the RIAA thinks ripping a CD is illegal as there may not be any CDs of music to buy. You would think that after four years of suing their own customers, putting Grokster and Napster out of business, and still not making a dent in the amount of songs shared online that they see the writing on the wall. Well, it is starting to sink in with the big music labels as Sony BMG is the only one left still putting out DRM protected digital files, but it’s going to take more changes that simply getting rid of DRM for these companies to survive in the future. They’re going to have to change their business models. Even that could end up being moot if more and more artists follow the trend of just releasing their music to fans directly and making their money off of concert tours.

Update: I need to put a clarification in here. It turns out the Washington Post article has caused quite a stir and the RIAA wants to let folks know that the defendant in the case in question is being sued because he placed the MP3s he ripped into the shared folder of a P2P program:

News that the RIAA, which earned widespread opprobrium for its prosecution of Jammie Thomas, is flexing its muscles against consumers, was enough to make the blogosphere’s collective blood boil. If accepted, the argument that merely ripping a CD to MP3 for personal use is illegal would cut to the heart of the fair-use exception of copyright law.

The only problem: No such claim was made. What RIAA lawyer Ira Schwartz wrote in a supplemental brief was: “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.”

The critical phrase there is “shared folder” because the rest of the brief makes clear that the RIAA is claiming that Howell not only ripped his CDs but also put them in his shared folder in Kazaa, thus making them available for worldwide distribution. The RIAA has successfully argued that mere presence of copyright files in a shared folder constitutes “distribution” under copyright law.

Which is all fine and good, but that doesn’t change the fact that the RIAA has stated on more than one occasion that CD rips are “technically” unauthorized copies and that when someone rips a CD they’re essentially “stealing only one copy.” This leaves open the door for them to take that last step and try and sue someone who was engaged in activity considered Fair Use. So while it’s true that in the case in question they’re not suing because the dude made MP3s for his personal use, that doesn’t mean they won’t in the future as they’ve specifically gone out of their way to make statements leaving that as an option.

30 thoughts on “RIAA now saying that you can’t legally rip CDs you own to your PC.

  1. as long as you don’t give away the music or lend it to anyone.

    ”…or lend it to anyone?  Gee, I seem to remember having bought a record or 100 over the years after borrowing from someone else.

    “Oh Noes!  My business model is being devoured by new technology!!!  I’d better look for legal relief!”

  2. Fuck the RIAA!!!

    I thought we had to worry about Bush turning things into a “V for Vendetta” real life movie, the RIAA and MPAA seem to be doing everything they can.

  3. However extreme, we all know why they’re doing it- being nonmaterial there’s nothing forcing you to delete it after borrowing, and once it makes the transition to data it’s usually easy to copy, or at least there’s ways and means.

    But they’re never going to know about CD-ripping alone if they never see data transferred over the internet

  4. Y’know, Les has picked on me for obfuscating profanity in my posts, but in this case, I’ll make an exception.  I’m totally with Webs on this one.

    Fuck the RIAA.

    Up the ass.


    And the horse they rode in on.

    There.  Bottom line:  I’m buying the music, NOT the medium.  And if those “Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?” fat bastards can’t get that through their pointy-haired Teflon-coated skulls, that’s just too fucking bad.

    I’m a programmer by trade, and if I lose my job to outsourcing (which I have) or offshoring (which, mercifully I haven’t—yet), I’m told to suck it up, that’s it’s for the greater good of the global free market.  Oh, but let anything threaten the corner-office sinecures of these bloated, bloviating fuckwads, and it’s a whole ‘nuther standard, apparently.

    I say: Fuck. That. Shit. Live by capitalism, die by capitalism, monkey-spankers.  If that means the days of you running an industry like it’s your own private feudal fiefdom, that’s just too damned bad, ain’t it?  If you don’t like the flip-side of technology, you shoulda stayed with vinyl, you parasitic asshats.

    The thing is, I’m not even that passionate about music.  But what I’ve paid for is mine, dammit.  I’m not about to buy a CD and then turn around and buy the whole fucking thing again for the “privilege” of ripping MP3s to my iPod.  Just like when I bought vinyl (yes, I’m dating myself) albums and copied them to cassette for my walkman: I never heard “boo” about that back in the day.  This is no different, or as we say at the Rocky Horror Picture Show:  “Same room, different filter”.

    So the RIAA (and the MPAA for that matter) can kiss my pasty-white dimpled ass if they don’t like the fact that I’m the fucking consumer (and by definition always right).  Barring that, how about they step off the gravy train for two fucking seconds and look for *real* talent instead of synthesizing it. [Looks in the direction of the plastic likes of Britney, JLo, JT, yadayadayada.]

    Stepping back for a minute, Bahamat’s right in that as long as stuff isn’t being ripped off the internet—and I won’t open up my hard drive for that on principle, security reasons aside.  But the sheer kleptocratic, jack-booted mentality of these wankers has to be stopped somewhere.  Because the arrogance seems to be growing exponentially.  Bad enough that internet radio was subjugated.  I’ll be damned if my hard drives and MP3 players swear fealty to those wankers.

  5. Beautifully said, CG!!!

    You reminded me of two movie moments.  One, where Kirk tells Spock to stop using “colorful metaphors” because he didn’t “quite have the hang of it”…

    “The hell I don’t,” said Spock.  But you certainly do.  Your profanity is flawless.  cool grin

    The other movie moment, much more germane, is in Men In Black where Tommy Lee Jones shows Will Smith a tiny sliver.  “This is about to replace CDs”, he says.  “I’m going to have to buy The White Album again.”

    Well that phrase stuck in my mind.  I’ve “bought” The White Album at least four times in four different media, (twice on LP, plus 8-track, cassette, and CD) and now they want me to buy it again to hear it on my MP3 player? 

    Not to mention having purchased Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill on three different media.  And countless others.

  6. Ooooh—Steely Dan:  Purrr…  Like I said, I’m not even that musically attuned—can’t carry a tune in a two-handled bucket, m’self—but that slinky change-up in “Only a Fool Would Say That” makes my mouth water every time. 

    ‘Smatter of fact, I think I’m gonna fire up the Windows box AND iTunes AND listen to the whole damned album Right Now.  BWOOHOOHOOHooHahahahahahaha!!!  Thanks for the nudge!

    Oh, and as it’s creeping up on that time an’ all: Here’s to a very Happy New Year to the denizens of SEB, and its host.  Thank bunches for all the insight and banter all year ‘round.  And thanks most especially for not kicking me out of the treehouse when I get annoying. 


  7. I see the RIAA persists in their fantasy world where you’ll pay a site license fee for every device upon which you’d play music.

  8. I’ll throw in my “Fuck the RIAA” as well!

    Fuck the RIAA, the Jews in control of the RI are just trying to steal more of our money!

  9. http://www.ilrweb.com/viewILRPDFfull.asp?filename=atlantic_howell_071207RIAASupplementalBrief
    (Found via The Register comments, props to B Bauer.)

    He got busted with the files in his Kazaa shared folder.

    I’ve repurchased a few hundred albums on cd that I owned on cassette, not to mention hundreds of first-bought on cd.  Through the cd clubs, of course.  My music purchases now are pretty much all online, save for the rare must-have album.  My days of buying $5 cds from BMG just to get one song are over.  20% drop in sales?  Our house went from a couple dozen a year to maybe two.

    Preach on, CubicleGrrl.

    Benior: I see the RIAA persists in their fantasy world where you’ll pay a site license fee for every device upon which you’d play music.

    Not just that, they have a hard-on for pay-per-play.

  10. Sooo…in most of these cases that we hear about, they are lawsuits right?  That means no laws were broken, these are civil cases, right?  We all hear horror stories of the RIAA breaking down doors and presenting injunctions, but short of me buying a CD and making physical copies for my crew of Asian immigrants to sell on the street corner, the cops really don’t have any involvement with these things, right?  Anybody know? I am totally uninformed about this issue, but I’m with Webs, Fuck the RIAA.  Fuck them indeed. I haven’t bought a CD in close to a year, and do not intend to ever buy one again myself.

  11. My solution to this whole thing has been simple..I haven’t bought (or downloaded) any music in several years.

    The download services put unreasonable restrictions on your usage.

    Now it’s specifically against the rules to rip your physical media copies to MP3’s.

    While I’m sure I’m missing some good stuff, I can get along quite fine without the music—and so long as the music industry makes it so patently clear that they don’t want me to have it..I’ll oblige them. Their loss…not mine.

  12. Nice CG!!!

    JethricOne is right on! Just don’t buy their shit. It’s that simple. If you do want to buy music, support your local band or the independents. Don’t give the conglomerates a reason to pull this bullshit.

  13. What I’m dreading is pay-per-play music and software – to do that they’d need to make the only legitimate source of music available to be rental. It could be done with agreements between music companaies and is possible with top-up devices, or ones that can go online to request permission (to avoid hacking into the topup/ charges data). Rental would allow these companies to make money without releasing any new material.

    With music and films, there is always the option of re-recording what would go to the output, but you can’t record software…

  14. JethricOne: Now it’s specifically against the rules to rip your physical media copies to MP3’s.

    That’s why I started buying mp3s from Wallyworld big surprise .  They allow you to burn audio cds.  Have to now, since M$ fucked Media Player to not allow you to import/export your license files.  One crash and my wma’s are gone.

    Of course, now that Wally and Amazombie are doing unfucked mp3’s, I try to get those whenever possible.

  15. Music rental is the obvious conclusion. After all, saying that private copying is stealing is already setting the premise for that, since every time you actually listen to a CD, you’re making several copies. The CD player makes a digital copy at first, then an analog electrical copy followed by a copy in the form of sound and then back into electrical signals in your ear. So, every time you are listening to a CD, and not paying 3+[number of listeners] times the amount of the price of the CD to Recording Industry Ass. of America, you are stealing!

  16. So, every time you are listening to a CD, and not paying 3+[number of listeners] times the amount of the price of the CD to Recording Industry Ass. of America, you are stealing!

    This is one instance where I believe keeping the ignorant in the dark would be a good thing.  If these asshats realize the difference between digitally encoded music from the actual sound and the electronic impulses in the nervous system actually constitute different versions, they might decide to file suits against the human auditory and nervous system. After all, we’ve all gotten music “stuck” in our heads right?

  17. God help me if the RIAA ever comes after me.  Lord knows they’d screw me up the bum for the 60+ albums I’ve ripped to my computer and no longer have legitimate hardcopy originals as some asshat saw fit to break into my truck and steal them.

    I would like to wonder what all of the big name companies that make cd ripping software (ie Apple, Microsoft, hell fucking Sony gave me something when I bought an MP3 cd player from them) end up having to say about this.

  18. I would like to wonder what all of the big name companies that make cd ripping software (ie Apple, Microsoft, hell fucking Sony gave me something when I bought an MP3 cd player from them) end up having to say about this.

    Actually, this brings up a really interesting line of thought. There have been several cases now, in the RIAA legal death trail, of services and programs that were forced to stop operating/selling, because the function they were providing was primarily for non-legitimate uses.

    Now that the RIAA says that it is stealing if you rip a CD to a digital format, this means that all consumer-targeted CD ripping software should immediately stop being sold/provided.

    So how about setting up some tiny label with a large prosecution fund (so that they can make their claims as broad as possible), and then have them file a huge suit against Microsoft, Sony, Creative, Apple and others for producing illegal software: avoid all opportunities to settle and taking the issue to the mat—-all the way to the supreme court if possible.

    In other words—do exactly what the RIAA would never do, because they want deniability and maneuvering room as they extend their claims—and because they are almost certain to lose big.

  19. I was thinking, perhaps we could get around any illegality of playing CD’s and memorising music by allowing copying into a cache that isn’t as a discrete, transferrable file. That way it’s uncopyable as data because it’s streeming and the old is deleted, what is there is constantly changing as it buffers.

    I was thinking perhaps one day we could be arrested for “posession of an illegal MP3 player”.

    [columbo]One last thing[/columbo], I don’t know whether or not it is an offence in USA/UK to make a product that enables a crime – because even something like MS Excel enables tax fraud, Wordprocessors enable blackmail+harrassment letters, internet browsers enable kiddie porn downloads, etc.

    CD ripping software that also enables something legal (i.e. allow data backup) can perhaps dodge that law – but then I suppose the primary intention of one of the features would be directly illegal in all cases, at least for copyrighted CD’s – another dodge to say that not all ripping is illegal could be that it’s intended to allow you to rip uncopyrighted CD’s – I.e. ones you made yourself

  20. So basically, if the CD/DVD/BluRay/HDDVD is doing anything other than sitting on your shelf you are violating copyright restrictions and can be sued.

  21. I think that the RIAA could be about to get badly burnt when they take on someone who can get/afford the right lawyer.

    First to clear something up.  You DO NOT buy ‘the CD’. Sure, you buy a pressed plastic disk, the packaging and associated middlemen costs (transport, the shop etc), but you don’t but the music.  You buy a licence to listen to the music.  This is where Les’s anger at DRM is sometimes off target.  You have no right to copy any work which you do not own the copyright.  It IS illegal to do so.

    HOWEVER, You buy the licence to listen to the music.

    Chief is an excellent case in point. He had the original carriers of the music stolen, BUT he has paid his fee to listen to those albums.  As long as he only uses one copy,, on a level legal playing field (i.e. same legal budget) this RIAA possibly wouldn’t take him on .  Software EULA’s are rooted in the same copyright laws, and part of that is ‘personal use back-up’.  Also you can install a programme on as many machines as you like AS LONG AS it is only installed on one machine at any one point in time- delete from one, install on the next.

    If you listen to a CD at home, and your wife listens to a MP3 ripped from that CD while out shopping, then you HAVE broken the law- two uses requires two licences.  What remains murky is what the position of personal use is- will multiple copies, but only for personal use break the law?

    The precedent would be the introduction of tapes.  When people recorded their vinyl to listen to in the car were any successful prosecutions brought? Did any fail, and for what reasons?

    To clear up a couple of things.
    1) CD players/Caches etc. Doesn’t count.  Though it stores the music, it does so to facilitate playback.  It is not designed as a long term storage device.

    2)Just because it’s a civil case doesn’t mean it isn’t law.  Not all breaches of the law are criminal law.  I guessing much copyright is covered by civil law in the US. It is still illegle to breach it.

    Much of the problem seems to be that they have no idea how to stop organised gangs who cost them millions, so hit anyone they catch.  It’s not just about ‘excessive profits’.  The record companies can NEVER compete on cost grounds.  The only cost pirates have is the cost of the CD and case.  The most their distribution net work is going to cost is a few $/£ to set up at the car boot sale. Rocord companies have the cost of the artiste, recording, production, post production and company management structure on top of the actual media cost.  Copies from the Baltic states cost not much more than buying a blank CD.

  22. So if I’m just paying for a license to listen to the CD, then when the CD goes bad and scratches, or just loses it’s playability I should get a refund or a new CD right? Or when my Vinyl no longer works or cassette I should get a CD of the same music right? I’ve already payed the license fee so there would be no legal requirement to pay it twice.

    HOWEVER, You buy the licence to listen to the music.

    If that’s true than making a copy without distribution for personal use would not break any copyright. I am making the copy to listen…

    Rocord companies have the cost of the artiste, recording, production, post production and company management structure on top of the actual media cost.

    Most of what the record companies do is bullshit and a waste of money. The Internet and MP3s are trying to force record companies to be efficient and innovative. They don’t like it so they cry instead. I equate it to the bail out of US automakers, only in this case we allow civil suits for insane amounts of money. South Park as always covered this one beautifully… sorry no clip

  23. Most of what the record companies do is bullshit and a waste of money.

    You really need to back this up.  Remember that all big companies are always trying to cut costs to keep profits high and shareholders happy.

    Sometimes you will see an contact to to replace the media in case of genuine loss, if you can prove you bought the original.  They charge a ‘processing fee’, which often means that it is not economic to do so, but it is clear that you are not buying a new CD, you are paying for the the actual plastic etc for the duplicate.


    consult a proper copyright lawyer!

  24. You really need to back this up.

    Be happy to with one simple link

    The band eventually scheduled a farewell concert to their fans, in order to get closure on the Dispatch portion of their lives. The free show was performed at the Hatch Shell in Boston on July 31, 2004. “The Last Dispatch,” as it was called, is said to be the largest concert in independent music history. The original prediction of the turnout was between 10,000 and 30,000. Fans reportedly flocked from Italy, Portugal, South Africa, and Australia among others [over 32 countries], making up an estimated total audience of 110,000.

    I inserted the bold section… anyways, this is an example of a band that had no record label and was not only profitable, but played shows with record attendance. Their 2007 concert at Madison Square Garden, which I was lucky to attend, sold out within 30 minutes. It was their Saturday show, and so they opened a Sunday show which sold out 12 hours later. Then a week later they announced a Sunday show and opened it’s tickets a little while later. They sold out in 23 minutes.

    Again, this is an independent band with no record label, just great musicianship that worked their asses off. I just can’t see the point of record labels other than to force music down our throats and rip off bands with crappy contracts.

    My knowledge of Tort law is pretty limited I admit, but saying that making a backup of something you legally bought is illegal seems like bullshit to me.

  25. If we hear music on the radio we didn’t previously buy the licence to listen to, are we breaking the law?

  26. I’ve updated the main entry of this post with a clarification about the case that’s been making the rounds. It’s not quite how the Washington Post portrayed it.

  27. If we hear music on the radio we didn’t previously buy the licence to listen to, are we breaking the law?

    No, because the station pays a royalty for every record it plays.  If it doesn’t it is the station, not you that breaks the law.

  28. In some ways they’re buying a licence to permit copying – because what goes on radio/tv can be permanently recorded without knowledge or restraint by however many people are within broadcasting range, which could be unlimited.

    I’m surprised HIFIs with tape recording decks and VCRs were allowed to be produced, at least ones with an inbuilt connection to the tuner, because copyright violation is near enough it’s only use

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