RIAA Kicks It Up a Notch — or Not

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the U.S. music industry’s knuckle rapper, the RIAA, has come up with a new argument in a lawsuit against a defendant it claims has violated copyright.

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. [emphasis in original]

But Endgadget is now reporting that the Post and others got it wrong: the RIAA is still suing Howell for downloading tunes, but is making the statement in passing that copying a CD to MP3’s on your hard drive is illicit, something they’ve been saying sotto voce for a while now, apparently. The RIAA has been suing Howell for a number of years, and it seems that one of the issues has to do with whether the fact that music files are sitting in a peer-to-peer directory on your computer constitutes illegal copying.

Whatever the exact state of play is — and wouldn’t it be great if these reports contained links to the actual documents? — I’d say the RIAA continues to play the stumbling Goliath flailing at the gigantic crowd of Davids.


  1. One implication of this position is that all existing analog recordings have in essence an expiry date; between the two of us, my wife and I have hundreds of LP’s, and if it is illegal to digitize them, if the equipment to play them became unavailable, they would be worthless, essentially “expired.” I would then be expected to purchase all my music over again. What if it became illegal to sell playback equipment (new or used) that had an “analog hole”, such as a standard CD player? This could hasten the demise of that format, and you would eventually be required to purchase your music collection over again.

    The RIAA wants only one thing — that every listen results in a payment.

  2. The really interesting thing here is that the industry argued just the opposite before the US Supreme Court in 2005. Here’s the link, and a quote: http://tinyurl.com/628mp

    From the moment [the iPod] was introduced, it was obvious that there were very significant lawful commercial uses for it. And let me clarify something I think is unclear from the amicus briefs. 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. There is a very, very significant lawful commercial use for that device, going forward.

  3. Ray Beckerman’s blog, RIAA v. the People, is the best source for accurate info about these cases. He’s got a massive index of all litigation documents available. I haven’t read all the materials in Atlantic v. Howell, but a quick glance suggests the media reports missed the mark.

  4. Here’s a note I posted to my listserv lately, but without much takeup (it was a postscript to a discussion about something else). One of my holiday projects is to transfer music from my collection of LPs to CDs, so I can have access to a lot of good music without buying CDs of it, since I’ve already paid for it. Is there a respectable argument that what I am doing is like what the Globe and Mail tried to do with Heather Robertson’s (and others’) journalism, i.e. enjoy it on a medium not contemplated when I paid for it, and thus depriving the creators of legitimate compensation for this new use?

    It seems to me that the originally contemplated use was personal enjoyment by me and those in my presence, or at least with physical access to the LPs, and I am not changing that use by putting the music onto my computer or a CD, except that I can listen in the car too.

    Also in my favour: I pay a blank-medium levy on all the CDs I buy, which compensates the creators for the ‘extra’ use I might be said to be making of their music.

    Obviously this reasoning is subject to change if I share files online, make CDs for distribution (or worse, sale), etc.

    Contrary views?