Washington Post Flubs Story On RIAA -- RIAA Still Not Going After Personal Copies (Yet)

from the who-needs-to-read-the-details? dept

Back at the beginning of December, we helped debunk a story making the rounds claiming that the RIAA was going after a guy named Jeffrey Howell for ripping his own CDs to his computer. That story was misleading, at best. While we know that the RIAA is constantly pushing to extend both the meaning and scope of copyright law, in this case the details were pretty clear that they were not going after Howell for just ripping his CDs, but for putting those ripped files into a shared Kazaa folder. Now you can (and we do!) disagree that simply putting files into a shared folder are infringement, but that's different than just claiming that ripping the CDs is illegal or that he was being targeted just for ripping the CDs. Unfortunately (and for reasons unclear to me), the Washington Post has revived the story, again repeating that Howell is being targeted for ripping his own CDs. That's simply not true, and it's nice to see a true copyright expert like William Patry question the Washington Post on this as well. It looks as though the Post's source for the story is the same as the earlier story: lawyer Ray Beckerman. Beckerman has done (and continues to do) a fantastic job fighting the RIAA against its bogus lawsuits. However, he still has failed to explain how the RIAA's filing actually says what he claims it says. While he suggested I don't understand because I am not familiar enough with the minutia of copyright law, I don't see how he can say the same for Patry, who literally wrote a nearly 6,000 page book on copyright. Of course, now that the Washington Post has republished this already debunked story, many other publications are spreading it. I emailed the Washington Post writer asking for clarification on Monday, but have not yet heard back.

Furthermore, there is one other point that is worth highlighting. It was noted in the comments to our original post. The filing points out that when Howell ripped his CDs and put them into a shared folder, those files were no longer "authorized." It's important to note that there's a difference between unauthorized and illegal. Beckerman seems to be saying that by saying "unauthorized" the RIAA means illegal -- but that need not be the case. It's perfectly legal to rip your CDs, even if it's not authorized. It's well established that ripping a CD for personal backup purposes is perfectly legal, even if it's not authorized. What the RIAA appears to be saying is that by putting those backup files into a shared folder, the rips no longer were made for personal use, thus pushing them over the line to illegal. Yes, the RIAA is still pushing its luck in its description, but as was clearly established back at the beginning of December, it is not (yet) claiming that Howell broke the law simply by ripping his CDs -- and it's too bad that the Washington Post has repeated it in a way that caused a bunch of other sites to suddenly claim that it was true.

Filed Under: copyright, riaa

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2008 @ 7:48pm

    So still waiting on an answer I see.

    The somewhat entertaining debate of Mike vs Everyone Who Is Too Lazy Or Stupid To Read And Comprehend What He Wrote aside, I'd like an answer as well.

    I've read the filing. The RIAA seems to suggest that ripping from a CD is something to be frowned upon (legally speaking, it IS unauthorized but perfectly within the law), but that the reason they are filing is that he put it into a shared folder specifically used by Kazza to distribute it widely to "nodding acquaintances."

    I hate the RIAA, and I *really* hate how they (or anyone for that matter) makes a mockery of the law's intent and willfully abuses the system. But their claim in this case is actually slightly more reasonable than others (Thompson's comes to mind).

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