Record Industry Goes After Personal Use? The case against Jeffrey Howell

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This is a story that has spread like wildfire. In this article from the Washington Post, Marc Fisher discusses how the RIAA has gone after Jeffrey Howell of Scottsdale AZ for converting the music CD’s that he legally purchased to MP3 files. Unfortunately, Marc Fisher did not get the story straight. According to the pleading and supplemental brief submitted to the court, the RIAA is suing because Howell put the MP3 files in the KAZAA share folder. It is really a shame that this and several other reporters have either gotten the story wrong or deliberately sensationalized it because now this story is focusing on the reporting instead of the ever more apparent strategy of the RIAA.

Wes Phillips of Stereophile has written what I consider to be a pretty accurate article about this and the last three paragraphs hit the nail squarely on the head. The RIAA is looking for nothing less than the elimination of the Fair Use principle of the copyright law. The Fair Use principle is what allows you to make copies of copyrighted material. However, the RIAA has its own ideas:

The RIAA’s own web site spells out what they understand is illegal copying of copyrighted material:

Examples of easy ways you could violate the law:

  • Somebody you don’t even know e-mails you a copy of a copyrighted song and then you turn around and e-mail copies to all of your friends.
  • You make an MP3 copy of a song because the CD you bought expressly permits you to do so. But then you put your MP3 copy on the Internet, using a file-sharing network, so that millions of other people can download it.
  • Even if you don’t illegally offer recordings to others, you join a file-sharing network and download unauthorized copies of all the copyrighted music you want for free from the computers of other network members.
  • In order to gain access to copyrighted music on the computers of other network members, you pay a fee to join a file-sharing network that isn’t authorized to distribute or make copies of copyrighted music. Then you download unauthorized copies of all the music you want.
  • You transfer copyrighted music using an instant messenging service.
  • You have a computer with a CD burner, which you use to burn copies of music you have downloaded onto writable CDs for all of your friends.

In his article, Wes writes:

Although it burst as “news” on December 29, there have been indications that the RIAA has been headed in this direction for some time. At the triennial review of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), conducted last January by the US Copyright Office, the record labels alleged that, although consumers could make back-up copies without much trouble, such use was “not specifically authorized [by the labels] and should not be mistaken for fair use.”

During the Jammie Thomas trial, Jennifer Pariser, head litigator for Sony BMG, said, “When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song,” adding that making personal copies was simply “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy.'”

Considering that the recording industry itself is slowly but surely moving into the Internet age and into a new business model, one has to wonder what is the RIAA doing?

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