In a legal brief filed for Atlantic v. Howell, the RIAA once again stated
its distaste for users who copy CDs for personal, private use.
The RIAA wrote that “it is undisputed that Defendant possessed unauthorized
copies” – referring to the Howell’s collection of mp3 files made from their own
CDs – and noted that “once Defendant converted Plaintiffs' recordings into the
compressed .mp3 format and they are in his shared folder, they are no longer
the authorized copies.”
The Judge’s question was, “Does the record in this case show that Defendant
Howell possessed an ‘unlawful copy’ of the Plaintiff's copyrighted material,
and that he actually disseminated that copy to the public?”
Similar sentiments were heard in testimony leading up to the conclusion of Capitol
Records v. Jammie Thomas, where Sony BMG’s head of litigation equated
Fair Use to stealing and testified that copying music for personal use is
just “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy.’”
Admittedly, the wording in its Atlantic v. Howell brief is vague and
its exact message unclear. Judging purely on the statements expressed in its
brief for Atlantic v. Howell, opinion seems divided on the true intent:
does ripping music to a computer for personal use produce an unlawful copy? Or
is the act of placing said music into a shared folder that makes it unlawful?
As the RIAA chose to use the word “unauthorized” instead of “unlawful,”
interpretation is further complicated; “unauthorized” and “unlawful” have two
very different legal definitions, and many think that the RIAA did not even
answer the Judge Wake’s question.
The piracy section on the RIAA’s website offers further confusion, with its legal
section making no mention of the legalities of “ripping.” The closest
analogue to ripping would be directly copying music to a CD-R, which says that
while users have “no legal ‘right’” they can generally avoid legal
confrontation by making sure said music is only copied for personal use.
An official response from the District Court will likely hinge on the RIAA’s
distinction between “unauthorized” and “unlawful,” and whether or not it feels
Howell is liable for ripping the CDs themselves, or placing them in a p2p
client’s shared folder.