Why are major media companies so eager to brand their customers as thieves?
Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: 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.Sure, the music industry knows that very few people are listening to CD's in their portable players - almost everybody now uses an MP3 player - and they have to know that if they could find a way to effectively enforce their notion that every one of these customers is a "thief", CD sales would drop to almost nothing. But away they go....
The Howell case was not the first time the industry has argued that making a personal copy from a legally purchased CD is illegal. At the Thomas trial in Minnesota, Sony BMG's chief of litigation, Jennifer Pariser, testified that "when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." Copying a song you bought is "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy,' " she said.Nice.
But lawyers for consumers point to a series of court rulings over the last few decades that found no violation of copyright law in the use of VCRs and other devices to time-shift TV programs; that is, to make personal copies for the purpose of making portable a legally obtained recording.And that makes sense... except, of course, that Congress in its infinite wisdom has criminalized doing so with most DVD's, as most are recorded in an encrypted format.