The recent judicial ruling by a U.S. district judge that requires that Verizon gives up the name of an individual who allegedly has 600 songs on his or her hard drive that this person is said to be sharing via the ‘net is disturbing. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) seems to be taking is members reduced sales exceedingly seriously. And it could be interpreted that one of the consequences of its Javert-like pursuit of the individual in question could have an effect on our rights to privacy. That is: Who gets to know what we have on our own equipment in our own domiciles when the things in question were obtained legally and have no conceivable threat to the Nation?
You have 600 songs on 600 cassettes that you purchased. You want to share this music that you own. So you print a list of these songs and put tags with your phone number on the bottom of the sheet. Then the sheet is tacked up on a bulletin board somewhere. People, who have looked through the posting for weight loss programs, exercise programs, and a ’91 Camero in mint condition, find the list. Each takes a tag. And gives you a call.
Upon receiving a call and a request for a particular song, you put your cassette deck up to the telephone handset as the person on the other end puts a recording device next to his/her phone. And the transfer of music proceeds. Certainly, the fidelity of the music recorded in this manner is not the same as a digital transfer of the audio information via a high-speed Internet connection, which is the situation in the case in question, but the result is the same. People have exchanged music. And the fundamental question is whether this is copyright infringement. Perhaps even wire fraud. Bad, bad things.
It seems as though the underlying notion is that when you buy music you are in some way entering into a contract with the recording company. This contract says that you can use the music on the purchased format for personal purposes only. It is found in the small print. So, picking up a disc at random (Zevon’s My Ride’s Here), I read on the back of the jewel case: “All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable law.” Precisely what the applicable laws are isn’t clear. But presumably, all purchasers are supposed to know what they are. And if you don’t get authorization (from whom? Zevon?), you’re in trouble with the Law. (Send lawyers, guns and money.)
But then I pick up another disc, this Bill Bruford’s Earthworks Footloose and Fancy Free:
“The phonographic copyright in these performances is operated by Discipline Global Mobile on behalf of the artist with whom it resides, contrary to common practice. Discipline accepts no reason for artists to assign the copyright interests in their work to either record company or management by virtue of a ‘common practice’ which was always questionable, often improper, and is now indefensible.”
Which leads me to think that more of us ought to go out and buy discs that are distributed by Discipline.
In the meantime, RIAA is undoubtedly unnerved by the prospect of their club dues decreasing or something, as the record labels are still being vexed in a post-Napster world. They would probably be better off trying to find better ways to encourage people to buy the music rather than alienating people who are sufficiently interested in music to rip and burn.