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The Law of Unintended Consequences

gumby.jpgOkay, this is so stupid it’s just mind-boggling (h/t Dakine01):

Despite more than 20,000 lawsuits filed against music fans in the years since they started finding free tunes online rather than buying CDs from record companies, the recording industry has utterly failed to halt the decline of the record album or the rise of digital music sharing.

Still, hardly a month goes by without a news release from the industry’s lobby, the Recording Industry Association of America, touting a new wave of letters to college students and others demanding a settlement payment and threatening a legal battle.

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.

The industry’s lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are "unauthorized copies" of copyrighted recordings.

"I couldn’t believe it when I read that," says Ray Beckerman, a New York lawyer who represents six clients who have been sued by the RIAA. "The basic principle in the law is that you have to distribute actual physical copies to be guilty of violating copyright. But recently, the industry has been going around saying that even a personal copy on your computer is a violation."

Per TeddySanFran, the folks at Endgadget have been following this too; they report that the WaPo gets a key part of the story wrong: the person (Jeffery Howell) is being sued not merely for copying tracks of a CD, but for plain old illegal downloading. (Though to be fair to the WaPo, Sony BMG, which for many intents and purposes is the RIAA, or at least a big chunk of it, did in fact argue in court back in October that making copies of tracks you bought is stealing as far as they’re concerned.) However, the RIAA is still being a bunch of stupid pinheads about it — and self-defeating ones, too, as they may not like what the judge has to say:

…the big change from previous downloading cases is the RIAA’s newfound aggressiveness in calling MP3s ripped from legally owned CDs "unauthorized copies" — something it’s been doing quietly for a while, but now it looks like the gloves are off. While there’s a pretty good argument for the legality of ripping under the market factor of fair use, it’s never actually been ruled as such by a judge — so paradoxically, the RIAA might be shooting itself in the foot here, because a judge wouldn’t ever rule on it unless they argue that it’s illegal. Looks like someone may end up being too clever for their own good, eh?

It sure does. In more ways than one.

This is analogous to the Bankruptcy Debt Slavery Bill’s helping to bring on the collapse of the financial markets. When people on the edge could safely blow off the 24 to 30% usury of the credit cards, they could afford to pay their mortgages, which are of course held by the same entities issuing the Usury Cards. But now that blowing off the credit-card usury is no longer an option, people are walking away from their mortgages — which is costing the banks MORE than if they’d let the people blow off the obscene credit cards.

The RIAA thought that forcing a Minnesota woman into the poorhouse to the tune of $9,250 a song would make major-label sales increase. They thought wrong, but will they admit it? Nope. Oh, and guess what? The artists on whose behalf this is all allegedly being done won’t see a cent of that money — it just gets rolled back into the RIAA’s lawsuit machine. (Speaking of violations, the techniques they used to find out that the woman had those songs on her hard drive are apparently OKed for criminal but not civil law prosecution — and this was a civil case. Hope that the appeal focuses on this.)

So now they’re going one step further:

They’re now saying that anyone who buys a song and copies it is breaking the law — even if the copy is just to your iPod, your computer, or your MP3 player.

Hoo boy! Steve Jobs has got to be pissed. As are all the MP3 player manufacturers out there.

Hell, forget Steve Jobs, think about the consumer electronics industry in general: Walk into any Best Buy or Circuit City these days and half the damned store’s given over to iPod accessories. Not the iPods themselves, or even for non-Apple music players, but the iPod accessories. Now the RIAA, if they win, will kill all of this — one of the few retail bright spots in this recession-verging-on-depression economy — dead, dead, dead.

And they still won’t boost up their album sales.

Brilliant, RIAA — you’re just firming up the resolve of me and people like me never to buy a major-label release ever again if we can help it. When I buy stuff, I buy straight from the artists, thank you very much. You know, the artists? The people you screw even harder than you do the buying public?

Geezo peezo, people. Go buy yourselves a clue, OK?

In closing: Thanks again to Dakine01, we find out that Mr. Howell’s not the only target of the RIAA to forego paying the ransom money fine and go straight to the mattresses:

The record industry got a surprise when it subpoenaed the University of Oregon in September, asking it to identify 17 students who had made available songs from Journey, the Cars, Dire Straits, Sting and Madonna on a file-sharing network. The surprise was not that 20-year-olds listen to Sting. It was that the university fought back.

Represented by the state’s attorney general, Hardy Myers, the university filed a blistering motion to quash the subpoena, accusing the industry of misleading the judge, violating student privacy laws and engaging in questionable investigative practices.

"Questionable investigative practices."

Remember what I mentioned earlier, about the RIAA and its goons using methods appropriate for criminal but not civil cases? You know, like using spyware and malware to frickin’ pillage your own frickin’ hard drive? Well, they’ve finally pissed off the wrong people with their high-handed Stasi shit. When the attorney general of a state joins with a state university to go after you, I don’t care who you are: You’re in deep trouble.

And it looks like other colleges and their increasingly-savvy students are following suit (pardon the pun).  The RIAA just might end up shutting themselves down over this.

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