"Ripping" Songs to Your iPod Illegal?

According to this story the RIAA is thinking about prosecuting us for copying music from CDs, which we have purchased or otherwise own legitimately, to an MP3 player.

Of course, that would mean prosecuting virtually everyone who owns an MP3 player. It seems unlikely that the RIAA would try to prosecute the entire market for their product. It’s bizarre that they’re threatening this. I thought that the right of music owners to copy LPs to audio cassettes was settled years ago. What is the essential difference between dubbing an LP to cassette and copying songs from a (purchased) CD to an MP3 player?

The eighth commandment forbids “not only such theft and robbery as are punished by this magistrate, but God views as theft also all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we seek to get our neighbor’s goods, whether by force or by deceit, such as unjust weights, ells, measures, goods, coins usury, or by any means forbidden of God; also a covetousness7 and the misuse and waste of His gifts” (Heidelberg Catechism Q. 110).

According to this understanding of the Eighth Commandment, we ought not deprive the music companies, artists et al of their goods by stealing music. Downloading without paying for it is the same as walking out of a store with CD without paying for it. The music belongs to those who produce and sell it.

Once one has purchased the music, however, I can’t see how copying songs that I own lawfully from one medium to another for my personal use deprives the music companies (I almost said “record companies”) or artists et al of revenue that is rightfully theirs. They must argue that we have to buy the same music in every possible format.

The music companies and artists et al have a right to protect their interests just as the grocer has right to protect his. If I leave the grocery with an apple for which I have not paid, I am a thief. If, however, having paid for the apple, I take it home and make juice out of it, I have not deprived the juice people of any revenue. On the argument being proposed by the RIAA the juice companies should come after me for making juice from an apple!

I think not. I guess the RIAA’s trial balloon is made of lead.

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  1. It’s funny how blind they are to the obvious consequence of prosecuting people recording their CDs for personal use. CD sales are already slumping; prosecute or prevent people from ripping CDs for their own personal use, and more will simply turn to downloading of both the legal and illegal varieties.

  2. What is the essential difference between dubbing an LP to cassette and copying songs from a (purchased) CD to an MP3 player?

    Non-degradability and distributability. Because it is digital, the .mp3 is practically identical to the original product (tapes are lower quality), and further distribution of the .mp3 loses no quality (while additional generation tapes each lose more and more quality).

    So it’s not like making juice from your apple, as much as taking seeds from your apple and growing your own apple tree (in just a few minutes, although with the lawful intent to only ever “consume” a limited number of apples yourself — one for the house, one for the car, one for the office, maybe one for backup in case of losing the original apple).

    Not to imply that the record companies are in the right; this effort seems to me like a “wicked trick and device whereby [they] seek to get” back the goods I rightfully purchased from them, and to make me buy them again.

  3. Ruben,

    I disagree. You’re probably too young to remember cassette tapes and vinyl LPs but we copy dub our LPs to high quality cassettes with virtually no loss in quality. Further, the courts ruled years ago that, since one owned the LP, one had a right to make copies for personal use. Well, copying from CD to MP3 player is for personal use. I’m not defending file sharing or theft, but copies for personal use are not theft or file sharing.

    As to the seed analogy, well, it fails because I’m not creating new music with the elements of existing music — that would fit your analogy.

    With iTunes anyway, there is a limit to the number of copies one can make of downloaded music. As far as I know the courts placed no limits on the numbers of cassette copies (even though, way back when, one could also purchase music on cassette as well as LP) one could make for personal use.

  4. Actually I was a young teenager when CDs came out (82? 83?), and I have made my share of cassette copies. Perhaps good or “virtually” identical copies could be made, but not literally identical. Plus dubbing cassettes and snail-mailing them across the world was time- and cost-intensive enough to still make it worth basically everyone’s whiles to just buy their own.

    But with .mp3, infinite-generation-copying is identical, and delivery is fast and free. Change my seed analogy to cloning (not new music, but “genetically” identical music), and I think my analogy holds up.

    As for iTunes, they are protecting their own (closed-standard?) .aac files, and if they put the same protections into iTunes-ripped CDs, then that’s merely a gesture of good will/faith. There is no unringing the bell of plentiful freeware CD-to-mp3-ripping software, which does not have any such protections.

    Enough of this technical mumbo-jumbo — what I really wanted to hear is what you thought of my main point: how the RIAA is trying a “wicked trick and device” to take from consumers goods they rightfully own?

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