I saw on CNN this morning that the RIAA is once again making noises about the copying of CDs. Since I am a professional writer, I am sympathetic to the protection of intellectual rights. But, I am also a rational being and this leads me to be critical of the RIAA.
The gist of the RIAA position is that ripping CDs you buy to your computer for your own use is illegal and is actually stealing. To be perfectly clear-if you buy a CD and copy it to your PC or Mac, the the RIAA claims you have stolen the music.
This matter has, of course, been tested over the past few decades. While I am not a legal expert, all the evidence I have seen over the years indicates that such copying is fair use and hence legal. But, law is a construct-it is something we just make up. So, the RIAA could get things going so that ripping a CD you buy is illegal. Perhaps they will even create a special task force (America Song Security Helping Out Law Enforcement Statewide) to deal with this matter.
Legally, I think the RIAA will have a tough time. First, the notion of fair use is well established and certainly seems to include ripping CDs. Second, the practice has been ongoing and tolerated. This makes it harder for the RIAA to suddenly decide to start taking action. Of course, tradition and common practice are not good defenses-but established precedent can be.
From a moral standpoint, such copies seem to be morally acceptable. When I purchase a book, movie or CD only a fraction of the price goes to paying for the medium (the CD, DVD or paper). What I am paying for is the right to use the content. Not even the RIAA would claim that I cannot play a CD I buy in different players (then again, they might). This is because I have not purchased the right to just play the CD on one device, but the right to listen to the music. This same right should apply to other devices as well, such as a PC or iPod. After all, the hardware is simply enabling me to exercise my right-whether by directly playing the CD or indirectly playing it by using the data.
I obviously do not have the right to sell the files or distribute them to other people. Morally, they should buy their own copies.
From a practical standpoint, the RIAA should leave this matter alone. First, most people already hate them and that is bad for business. Creating more hate is even worse for business. Second, if they make it illegal to rip CDs and take action against people, then CD sales will be hurt even more.
The RIAA will probably not try to sue people who have ripped CDs. After all, this would be almost everyone who owns a computer. Then again, their people sometimes seem to have a distorted view of reality and ethics, so who knows what they might do?