Poll of computer pros Frem ZDNet

Fred Dabney fdabney@nmsu.edu
Thu Oct 18 13:07:59 EDT 2007

The voting in my digital media ethics poll is now closed, and I'm sorting 
through the fascinating results, which I'm going to respond to in a series 
of posts. To kick things off, I want to talk about the one issue where there's 
practically no disagreement. Look at the response to this question:
Do you think it's proper to buy a CD, rip it to your hard drive, and then 
make copies for your own personal use on multiple devices or computers?
Yes: 96%
No: 2%
Sometimes/Depends: 2%
I believe the ayes have it. The question gets a little more complicated if 
you include copy-protected DVDs (which is why I didn't ask that variation), 
or DRM-protected downloads, a topic I'll discuss in more detail tomorrow. 
For music CDs, however, the conclusion is crystal clear. The overwhelming 
majority of you believe that if you buy an album, you're buying the rights 
to play back that performance any way you want, as long as it's for your 
personal use. If you buy a CD, you should be able to make a backup CD, 
another CD copy for the car, digital copies in any format and bit rate you 
prefer for your computer and for your iPod or Zen or smartphone (and another 
for your spouse's portable player), mix CDs, and playlists.
This comment, from the Talkback section of the poll, summed it up well:
I am perfectly willing to pay a fair (not inflated) price for someone else's 
work. However, I should then be free to use it as I wish. That includes 
copying it to other media, storing it for later, or any other personal use 
(including sharing it with my family at the same location). Under those 
conditions, I don't feel I have a right to re-sell it for a profit, or 
massively distribute it.
We will now have a brief intermission while paramedics remove the RIAA 
executives who are experiencing chest pains just reading that previous 
The same comment continues:
Unfortunately, the corporate entities that control the mass market media are 
so scared of new technologies that they are trying to deny us reasonable use 
of things we have already purchased. They are also using digital rights as 
lever to overcharge us; trying to charge us as much for on-line media as 
they would for hard copy CDs and DVDs (which have far greater production, 
transportation, marketing, and point of sales overhead costs). As a result, 
I will do whatever I can (without taking excessive legal risks) to subvert 
their system, until it falls apart of its own inertia. At that point, I look 
forward to purchasing copyrighted media at a reasonable price to use in 
whatever way technology permits
That's no exaggeration. Officially, the RIAA refuses to even enter into this 
argument, contending that you have no right to make a backup copy of a music 
CD. On a page starkly entitled "The Law," the RIAA concedes:
It's okay to copy music onto an analog cassette, but not for commercial 
purposes. It's also okay to copy music onto special Audio CD-R's, 
mini-discs, and digital tapes (because royalties have been paid on them) - 
but, again, not for commercial purposes.
But digital copies? No way, says the RIAA, although we might let you get 
away with it:
Beyond that, there's no legal "right" to copy the copyrighted music on a CD 
onto a CD-R. However, burning a copy of CD onto a CD-R, or transferring a 
copy onto your computer hard drive or your portable music player, won't 
usually raise concerns [emphasis added] so long as:
The copy is made from an authorized original CD that you legitimately own
The copy is just for your personal use. It's not a personal use - in fact, 
it's illegal - to give away the copy or lend it to others for copying.
How kind of them to mention that it won't usually raise concerns (wink wink, 
nudge nudge, say no more) if you want to copy a CD for your own personal 
use. That's not to say they won't try to sue you someday, just that they're 
a little busy with other battles right now.
Elsewhere on the RIAA site, a FAQ "for students doing reports" says, "Record 
companies have never objected to someone making a copy of a CD for their own 
personal use." Again, they're steadfastly refusing to acknowledge any right 
to make even a backup copy so you can protect media from being scratched and 
rendered unplayable. And that's not just shyness. It's official policy for 
the entertainment industry at large. In an official Joint Reply (PDF) filed 
with the United States Copyright Office on the Digital Millennium Copyright 
Act last year, the lawyer for a consortium of 14 content providers, 
including the MPAA and RIAA, summarized his clients' beliefs in regard to 
backing up your CDs:
[T]he making of back up copies for personal use has never been held to be a 
per se noninfringing use [and] we oppose the recognition of any of these 
The justifications offered by the submissions for making back up copies 
mirror those offered in 2003: possible damage that would render a copy 
unusable and the convenience of travel copies. Neither of these 
justifications is compelling.
And if a CD does get scratched? Hey, tough luck. Buy another one:
Presumably, consumers concerned with the ability to make back up copies 
would choose to purchase music from a service that allowed such copying. 
Even if CDs do become damaged, replacements are readily available at 
affordable prices.
Did you know the recording industry offers replacement copies at affordable 
prices? How come I've never heard of that program? Oh, right. because it 
doesn't exist. What the RIAA is saying, in that official document, is that 
if your CD gets scratched you can go buy another copy. Sorry, no. For what 
it's worth, I've been burned too many times by CD players and changers that 
mangle discs. The very first thing I do when I buy a new CD is to make a 
copy for use in the car. Then I rip the tracks from that CD to a home server 
and use those copies for the Media Center PC in the living room or the 
computer in my office and for filling up our portable music players.
According to the RIAA, I don't have a right to do any of that stuff. 
Fortunately, I feel great knowing that you 98% of you agree with my 
philosophy and disagree with the RIAA's extremist point of view. That's how 
far apart the entertainment industry and its customers are today.
The big corporations that package music and movies today were built in the 
pre-digital age, and the attitude embodied in the above statements comes 
straight out of the 1970s. If the media giants that control the music and 
movie industries can't take even a tiny baby step into the 21st Century, it's 
no wonder their customers are willing to live by their own, more reasonable 
Coming up next: The file-sharing standoff.

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' 
experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. See 
his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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