Yesterday, in discussing the odd case of a teen convicted under Arizona state laws for unauthorized copying, we wondered about some of the details -- including the $50 million claim pinned to the material on his hard drive in early versions of the AP story (later removed, for no clear reason). Luckily, we've got some answers. Slate takes a look at the $50 million and explains how the content industry does math to come up with such figures. The real answer is they basically make it up. They determine that each work can be valued somewhere between $750 and $30,000, even if they can all be downloaded legally for $1 a piece. It certainly seems a bit presumptuous to put such a high number on the value. However, this story gets even better. Ernest Miller takes a crack at the specific Arizona state law that tripped up this guy, and realizes it turns fair use copying into a felony. That's right. The details show that if you're simply ripping your own legally purchased CDs into MP3s for personal use or backup, you are breaking this particular law, and could reach the felony stage with as little as 1,000 songs -- even though fair use copying is legal. Of course, at $30,000 per song, that's only $30 million. To get up to $50 million, you'd need to rip 1,667 songs. If we assume an average album has... say... 12 songs, you'd just need to rip approximately 140 CDs to reach the $50 million felon mark. Not so hard. You might already be there. So, while it appears this particular kid was doing much more, you too could be convicted of a felony for having $50 million worth of content on your hard drive just for legally (oh, wait, maybe not...) ripping a bunch of your legally purchased CDs into MP3s.
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