February 17, 2006
All Your Trax Are Belong To Us

Via theinquirer.net and the EFF, the RIAA has reversed its position on whether ripping electronic backups from CDs is kosher.

This is what Don Verilli said the Supreme Court last year:

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.

And this is their new position:

Nor does the fact that permission to make a copy in particular circumstances is often or even routinely granted, necessarily establish that the copying is a fair use when the copyright owner withholds that authorization. In this regard, the statement attributed to counsel for copyright owners in the MGM v. Grokster case is simply a statement about authorization, not about fair use.

As Fred Von Lohmann at the EFF says, the RIAA is essentially saying that "perfectly lawful" means "lawful until we change our mind." First, that's not how the law works. Second, there's no way in the world that you're going to convince people that they don't have the right to format-shift music which they already bought. And third, even if the RIAA manages to strongarm Congress and the courts to upholding their retrograde notion that consumers are leasing their music and have only those rights the RIAA deigns to assign them, all this is going to do is encourage people to engage in piracy and hold the law in contempt. Remember how effective the Eighteenth Amendment and Prohibition were at stamping out the consumption of liquor? Now imagine how well everyone with an iPod, mp3 player, or library of music on their computer is going to take their listening habits being criminalized.