Record Industry Strikes Sour Note on Copyright

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The Recording Industry Assocation of America has declared that music users who simply rip music to their computers from legally purchased CDs are breaking the law. Ridiculous? The RIAA certainly doesn’t think so. They venture so far as to say that in ripping your CD to your computer, you are ‘steal[ing] just one copy.’
To determine whether or not certain usage of copyrighted material is protected, we turn to the fair use doctrine. There we find a list of four factors:

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The factor seeming to garner the most attention is the first. The fact is that these users are simply looking for a way to organize their music in an easy-to-use format. How can the RIAA even consider that the reorganization of a product doesn’t fall under fair use? They have to come to terms with the fact that mass storage devices, like iPods, are now the standard method of listening to music. The only way to transfer the music onto an iPod is to first rip it with a program like iTunes. These users are not making physical copies of the CDs, they aren’t attempting to sell them, they aren’t uploading them onto peer-to-peer Web sites or giving them to their friends; they are following the fair use doctrine.
The fourth factor is also focused on quite a bit, as ‘illegal copying’ certainly calls to mind a loss of profit for the music industry. This factor considers the idea that the ‘copy’ has the potential to serve as a substitute for re-purchasing the product. This is certainly not the case when the consumer is ripping music from a CD in order to listen to it from a device like an iPod. It is simply updating their music library to allow for better use as well as preservation of the quality of the music files.
In order to understand exactly why we cannot allow this to be considered a crime, we must reflect on why products like CDs, MP3 players and iPods were originally developed. All of these devices were and are meant to improve the ease of listening to and accessibility of music for the consumer. It is vital to this argument to remember the intended purpose of these devices. The RIAA seems to be suggesting that we ignore these technological innovations and either revert back to CDs or re-purchase our entire music library in digital form. It’s just impractical for a consumer to even consider either of these options and to prevent a person from using technology as it is meant to be used should be considered the real crime.
If the RIAA chooses to continue pressing charges against these consumers, then to them I pose this question: What practical alternative can you give us? How, exactly, can the average consumer update their music library without risking a lawsuit?
Sandy Rose is a third-year Spanish major. She can be reached at srose@uci.edu.

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