Over the weekend, the Washington Post ran a big blowout story on how the RIAA was planning on going after music fans who ripped their CDs for personal use, a story that had been floated by the tech press a few weeks ago. But the nerd blog TechDirt is arguing that it’s not the act of ripping that the RIAA is going after; it’s where those files wind up on your hard drive, specifically if they’re in a shared folder, that will raise the red flag. (For now, anyway!)
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.
And wait, there’s even more legalese afoot:
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.
So by this estimation, “unauthorized” doesn’t necessarily mean “illegal,” which should open up some new doors for the transgression-happy types among you out there. And by my estimation, all of this means that we need a new Idolawyer because even though I love to edit, splitting words like this is making my head hurt. (Interested? E-mail me at mauraATidolatorDOTcom.)