RIAA: Litigating Away Its Relevance

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

They’ve done this before, but it’s still pretty stunning:

In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

The industry’s lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are “unauthorized copies” of copyrighted recordings.

“I couldn’t believe it when I read that,” says Ray Beckerman, a New York lawyer who represents six clients who have been sued by the RIAA. “The basic principle in the law is that you have to distribute actual physical copies to be guilty of violating copyright. But recently, the industry has been going around saying that even a personal copy on your computer is a violation.”

Back in 2006, entertainment industry darling Hillary Clinton told the press she had the Beatles on her iPod. Since the Beatles had not yet licensed their music to iTunes or any other MP3 site, the only way she could have gotten them onto her iPod would have been by ripping a CD. I wonder, does RIAA have the stones to take Hillary to court? And if not, why not?

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

12 Responses to “RIAA: Litigating Away Its Relevance”

  1. #1 |  Dan Hill | 

    “…a New York lawyer who represents six clients who have been sued by the RIAA”

    There’s a word for what’s going on here. Payback.

    But talk about shooting yourself in the foot. I’m off to sell my hundreds of CDs and will never buy another one. The proceeds will be entirely spent on non-DRM’ed MP3’s.

  2. #2 |  Nick T | 

    Technically you don’t have to distribute the copies you make to violate copyright laws, since the right to reproduction is part of the bundle of copyrights.

    But of course there is fair use, and there is common sense, and this is a waste of everyone’s time to be bringing this suit. I’m not going to stop ripping CDs to my computer anytime soon.

    What’s next? Will the movie industry try to sue someone for buying a DVD and watching it with 5 of their friends? Technically, I suppose that violates the studio’s copyright to performance.

  3. #3 |  MikeT | 

    5 different people, it just might. This is one of the reasons why the government needs to take away all copyright holders’ control over their products that exist above and beyond what the creators of physical goods have.

  4. #4 |  Patrick | 

    How did they ever “catch” this guy?
    He had to have been filesharing.

  5. #5 |  Derek | 

    Now where exactly does the title “litigating away its relevance” come from? Wouldn’t an appropriate title be “litigating its way to greater wealth, prosperity, and power”? I understand you don’t like the RIAA, but let’s be realistic here.

  6. #6 |  Derek | 

    …unless you seem to think that “guy who writes blog” has more influence than an extremely rich lobbying organization with a track record of proven success. Like I said: let’s be realistic here.

  7. #7 |  Robert | 

    So, basically the RIAA is saying we do not own anything when we buy a CD. We are simply renting the media and when it wears out, melts, breaks or fails, we once again have to pay a RENTAL FEE for the music we already bought once.

    In order to protect ones investment, BACKING up music purchased is the only logical choice. Seems to me the RIAA will have to assign EVERY song created a specific I.D. so when the media fails, the end-user has a record on file so they can download their song again…

    They are shooting themselves in the foot.

    Metallica can go to hell for all I care. I will NEVER buy another CD as long as I live.

  8. #8 |  Nick T | 

    Mike T,

    I understand this example makes copyrights look pretty bad, but your position is a little extreme bordering on the absurd. Just think it through. People who create physical goods can have their goods completely copied unless they are patented. In other words, someone can inspect and deconstruct any physical good in order to figure out how it is made and then remake it nd sell it as their own.

    This system, combined with patent protection, works prety well for physical items, but for people’s intellectual property, it simply won’t fly. I could run home right now and grab my copy of, say, the Kite Runner (gift from my mom), then xerox all the pages and sell those copies for $.05 on the dollar if not for copyright laws. (Now you may say no one would want to buy my cheesy xerox copy, but keep in mind, the whole system of distributing literature would be changed and as a result so would social and commercial attitudes.) Copyright laws create incentives for people to spend 2 years of their life writing a book, and reward a creative genius who can write songs that 50 million people love. They should be rewarded everytime someone buys their CD rather than a copy of that CD put out by a rival record company who just bought an original disc and burnt it a million times over.

    Also, the effects on journalism would be crippling, think the famous AP v. INS case, where a newspaper company literally waiting for another company to put out their paper and then just copied all of the information into their own.

    Copyright laws are generally pretty great, and in a lot of ways – and I know this may be anathema on this site, but – Metallica was right.

  9. #9 |  Ochressandro | 


    Not quite accurate. The guy isn’t being taken to court for ripping the CDs, but rather for putting the results in his Kazaa sharing folder.

  10. #10 |  Rick | 

    The original intent of copy right law to secure for a limited time to Authors and Inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries is necessary to encourage art and innovation. The recording industry has spent much effort in effectively increasing this limit to over 100 years, although this doesn’t literally violate the constitution, I don’t believe any reasonable person would agree that a limited time should be so long as to exceed the lifetime of the artist. It is this kind of unreasonable greediness that has caused people to snub intellectual property rights concerning music.

    Until the advent of the internet, the publishing of recorded music was a fairly expensive undertaking. Now that computers are threatening to make them obsolete they are trying to use their money and clout to intimidate people who revolt against their greedy ways.

    The current state of copyright law, including recent legislation, is deplorable and exceeds the original intent of a copyright.

  11. #11 |  John David Galt | 

    RIAA (and MPAA) are indeed litigating their way to irrelevance, because their recent sales figures show that a large part of the public has stopped buying new products from them.

    Two other motivations may also apply here: the major media companies that RIAA and MPAA represent abandoned the moral high ground when they started cheating their artists out of the rights to their own work under a specious “works for hire” assertion (see Carly Simon’s article “Sharecroppers” in Salon several years ago for details); and most of the new material they’ve published since 1990 isn’t worth paying for anyway.

    Meanwhile, lots of new artists now make their material available digitally, rather than submit to the screwing by Sony, Time Warner, CBS and the rest that their predecessors are having to take. The only reason the same thing isn’t happening (much) to movies is that the studios, TV networks, and cable/satellite providers are all owned by those same media giants, who are using the FCC to make it as expensive as possible for any new company to enter those industries.

    And to the extent they can, they’ll do the same to the Internet. Which is why I will never subscribe to an ISP that belongs to a telephone or cable TV company — they’re part of the media giants.

    This is a battle the little guy can win in the marketplace. But only if we keep our eyes open and don’t sign away any more of our rights.

  12. #12 |  Reporters Notebook » Blog Archive » The RIAA’s Ridiculous Reasoning On Rips | 

    […] So this is nothing new, but it’s still amazing to see how absurd the RIAA’s position is. How absurd? Here’s Radley Balko: […]