RIAA to Hunt CD Rippers Next?

By PatB
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

I have never downloaded an MP3 song from a recording artist off of the Internet.  I think this makes me somewhat of a rarity in the cyber world.  I never did it, not because of some sense of morality, or stance on copyright issues.  I saw first hand the dangers of P2P applications from a cyber-security perspective – the constant port probes, the dangers of downloading trojanized files, the denial of service effects of becoming a Gnutella supernode, etc.

Even when downloading music and video became all the rage with iTunes, I skipped it.  I thought the prices were too high.  And while a buck per song seems trivial at first, hundreds times trivial equals substantial.  I don’t even own an MP3 player anymore since my last one broke.  But when I did have one, I just copied by own songs ripped from CD’s I own.

In fact, the first thing I do when I open a new CD is rip a backup copy and put it on my server at home.  I was stung too many times in the past by CD’s that became scratched or cracked and vowed to never again buy a duplicate CD because I damaged the original media.

But now there are a few lawyers that want to criminalize my sensible backups of recorded music media.

From FoxNews here:

You could be sued for thousands of dollars by the major record companies — even if you’ve never once illegally downloaded music.

That’s because at least one lawyer for the Recording Industry Association of America, the Big Four record companies’ lobbying arm and primary legal weapon, considers the copying of songs from your own CDs to your own computer, for your own personal use, to be just as illegal as posting them online for all to share, according to a federal lawsuit filed in Arizona.

In a supplemental brief filed in a P2P case responding to the judge’s technical questions, the RIAA’s Phoenix lawyer, Ira M. Schwartz, states that the defendant is also liable simply for the act of creating “unauthorized copies” — by ripping songs from CDs.

“It is undisputed that Defendant possessed unauthorized copies of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted sound recordings on his computer,” the brief states. “Virtually all of the sound recordings on Exhibit B are in the ‘.mp3’ format. … Defendant admitted that he converted these sound recordings from their original format to the .mp3 format for his and his wife’s use. … Once Defendant converted Plaintiffs’ recording into the compressed .mp3 format and they are in his shared folder, they are no longer the authorized copies distributed by Plaintiffs.

In other words, according to Schwartz’s logic, every single person who’s ever “ripped” a CD for portable listening on an iPod or other MP3 player could be liable for astronomical damages.

The RIAA’s own Web site is more conciliatory, but implies that the organization reserves the right to go after music “rippers” should it change its mind.

However, Schwartz isn’t the only RIAA bigwig who’s recently implied that those concerns may be raised more often.

Copying a song you’ve paid for in CD form is “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy,'” Sony BMG top lawyer Jennifer Pariser testified during cross-examination in the Jammie Thomas case in early October.

This story went wide last week with some articles published on the WaPo and Wired Magazine.  I’m certain that using CD burners to backup copies of legitimately purchased CDs won’t be outlawed.  But lawyers for the RIAA need to be careful on how they parse their words on these legal briefs.