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No Such Thing as a Legal MP3?

No Such Thing as a Legal MP3?

A brief filed by the Recording Industry Association of American in the case of Capitol v. Howell set blogs alight this week with cries of unfairness, by those who believed the RIAA was claiming that even private copies of paid-for CDs were illegal. As it turns out, that’s not the full story. A careful examination of the brief shows that the RIAA is taking the same stance it has always taken: sharing music is illegal.

The confusion stemmed from wording in the brief (PDF). It states: “Defendant admitted that he converted these sound recordings from their original format to the .mp3 format for his and his wife’s use…  Once Defendant converted Plaintiff’s recordings into the compressed ‘.mp3’ format and they are in his shared folder, they are no longer the authorized copies distributed by Plaintiffs.”

While all the talk of conversion seems to have set off alarm bells for fair use advocates, the brief but important mention of putting the MP3s in a shared folder (in this case on the Kazaa network) seems to be the real issue, since it facilitates illegal distribution.

Though the RIAA hasn’t taken an anti-ripping stance in the Capitol v. Howell case, it has in the past. In the highly publicized case of Capitol Records v. Jammie Thomas, RIAA head legal counsel Jennifer Pariser spoke out against the simple act of ripping a CD. “When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song,” she said.

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