Monday, December 31, 2007

Personal Use isn't Fair Use

Almost as if on cue, to stress the point I made in response to Pete Ashton in this post's comments, the RIAA are now ready to take on even those of us who steer well clear of piracy:
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. (via DF)

It's tempting to laugh at this kind of action in a 'what can they do?' kind of way, but it's more serious than that. This is essentially direct action against iTunes and the iPod, as that's almost certainly where most legally purchased but format-shifted content resides. The industry will pretend (again) that they're happy with some kind of kick-back from iPod sales, but that's the thin end of the wedge for them to wring whatever kind of money they can out of the electronics industry in order to compensate for the failure of their business model. More hope perhaps lies in Apple's ability to convincingly put in place technology that lets owners of CDs legitimately and securely format-shift content in a way the industry can grudgingly accept. In the long term, Pete (and others) are right and DRM isn't the answer, and we need to press for the recommendations of the Gower Review to be implemented soon in this regard.

I'll say it again though: I'd sooner have a unintrusive (and Pete, while I've no desire to be some kind of DRM-apologist, it is largely unintrusive as long as you're staying within your usage rights) Fairplay-style lock to my devices than have the music industry propped up with cash from device sales.

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andy broomfield said...

Hi Rob,

I've been thinking a lot about copyright recently, thanks for the link to the Gower report, quite interesting reading, though I feel I don't wish to spend the rest of new years eve on it!

Its interesting to note that this tactic of the Recording Industry has been around for a while, I found the Slashdot discussion quite informative, particularly this Slashdot comment. I know I shouldn't be relying on that as legal advice, and it is US centric, but I think we do need to assert or own morals on this. If many of us naturally copy our music from CD to itunes to elsewhere (as I still do). Then I still see that as fair and acceptable use.

My concern is, once you begin to accept that music / video you legitamttly purchase can be locked down in DRM schemes, no matter how transparent, eventually there will be barriers that you run into. Apple are very good at creating eco-systems that would make the whole user experience transparent to the end user as if it wasn't there as you say, they would often stay well within the usage rights. Those of us who have mixed systems however may find ourselves left out in the cold.

Pete Ashton said...

Hi Rob,

Just playing catchup and acknowledging your continuing the debate. I still think that "largely unintrusive as long as you're staying within your usage rights" is a strange concept when your dealing with digital content and a post-scarcity environment. And I have issues with the concept of "rights" which seems a little undefined, or rather the definition can be fixed by vested interests.

A vinyl record, for example, has a specific use defined by physics - it can only be played on a record player. A CD, being composed of digital data, is just a physical carrier for that data. You could copy the same AIFF files onto a thumb drive or similar and play it on any computer-style device. Whether someone wants to prevent that happening is very different to whether it's possible.

Yada yada, and so on.