mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

No, it's not illegal to rip music...

The recent case of Atlantic vs Howell has been getting a lot of attention from blogs of late - Consumerist had a post about it entitled MP3's you ripped yourself are still "Unauthorized" by the RIAA" and Engadget, which usually is better about being less hyper and more factual, just put up a post that The RIAA is suing citizen for legally copying CD. These headlines and content give the impression that the RIAA is going after innocent citizens just for copying a CD for personal use, which is incorrect.

Now, I'm no fan of the RIAA. I think it's stupid for them to go after music fans, I think file-sharing is a great way for people to discover large amounts of music that doesn't get radio or MTV play and that they never would have paid for without the chance to listen to. I morn the shutdown of Oink and would welcome an invite to one of the sites that replaced it.

But it bugs me the way the articles are headlined, because they are incredibly inaccurate. The RIAA didn't go after Howell because he was ripping his own CD's. They went after him because he was ripping his own CD's and sharing them in the shared folder of the Kazzaa file sharing application.

The actual court brief is here. I'm on a borrowed laptop right now that doesn't have Acrobat Pro on it, so I can't easily copy and paste the relevant text, but page 2 clearly explains what happened. Howell ripped a bunch of music from CD's he owned. He also had Kazzaa on the computer. He moved his music, and evidently reinstalled Kazzaa, on a new computer. His ripped MP3's were in the shared music folder of his Kazzaa app, and the RIAA lawyers found them there, and sued him. His defense rested not only on the fact that he legally owned the music, but also on the fact that he claimed he didn't know that he was sharing the music. The latter is believable, ans Kazzaa is a horrible, spyware-ridden, manipulative piece of software, and will often share folders without people knowing. (There used to be an entire blog of things that a guy found on file sharing services, which included people's personal financial docs, defense department docs, and naughty pics).

But the judge ruled that since he was sharing it, even if he owned the cd's and didn't mean to share it, he was guilty. Which is unfortunate, but it has long been the case that ignorance of the law does not protect against guilt for violating the law, and evidently that extends to ignorance of computers.

While I don't like the RIAA or it's tactics, it annoys me that the case is being spun from a fairly ordinary file-sharing case to a claim that it's now illegal to rip your own CD's. Let's face it, if Howell did not have his CD's shared in Kazzaa, the RIAA would have no way of knowing that he had ripped them in the first place.


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