For a while it's been something of an open secret that music services like Pandora get around buffering problems by actually downloading MP3s to a temporary folder on your hard drive, and then streaming it locally. There are a few software products that will help you save (and rename) those files. Ed Felten has written that a new Billy Joel single is being promoted by SonyBMG using a similar system. It looks like it's streaming to your computer, but the reality is that it first downloads a full, high-quality, MP3 to your computer. So, the open question is what's the legality of saving that file? There are a few issues here. First of all, all of the RIAA lawsuits are about uploading, not downloading files. So as long as you're not sharing the file later, chances are, you're not going to get sued at all. But, the RIAA and others still could consider it to be copyright infringement by gaining "unauthorized access" to the file. Unfortunately, it seems that such a claim would be tough to support, since the file was place on your hard drive on purpose -- it's just that the service delivering it hoped you wouldn't notice it and save it. In the end, though, this helps highlight some of the reasons why traditional copyright law doesn't make much sense in a digital age. In order to get a better quality streaming audio, the best way to do it is to load that MP3 onto your computer -- but doing so may technically be considered copyright infringement in some manner. One more reason why it's about time people started rethinking copyright laws.
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