Copyright thuggery takes a new twist

Interesting report in the Washington Post…

In an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

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.”

The piece attracted 283 comments, one of which usefully pointed to the RIAA’s own FAQ page. This says:

11. How is downloading music different from copying a personal CD?

Record companies have never objected to someone making a copy of a CD for their own personal use. We want fans to enjoy the music they bought legally.

Quite so. But later there’s a link labelled “for more on what the law says about copying CDs, click here”. This leads to the site and the following claims:

# It’s okay to copy music onto an analog cassette, but not for commercial purposes.

# It’s also okay to copy music onto special Audio CD-R’s, mini-discs, and digital tapes (because royalties have been paid on them) – but, again, not for commercial purposes.

# Beyond that, there’s no legal “right” to copy the copyrighted music on a CD onto a CD-R. However, burning a copy of CD onto a CD-R, or transferring a copy onto your computer hard drive or your portable music player, won’t usually raise concerns so long as:

* The copy is made from an authorized original CD that you legitimately own

* The copy is just for your personal use.

What this highlights is that there is no limit to what the copyright industries will seek to extort from consumers unless they are constrained by law. It’s only a short step from the RIAA’s apparent position as revealed here (that being allowed to rip a CD onto your hard drive for your personal use is a privilege which “won’t usually raise concerns”, rather than a right) to arguing that merely looking at a web page constitutes making a copy — because a computer can only display a web page after a copy of the page has been loaded into the video RAM of the user’s computer.

If these industries were allowed to get their way, they would reduce the web to a shambles of permanent ongoing micro-payment negotiation.

Thanks to Chris Walker for the original link.