Am I committing a crime when iTunes copies my MP3's into RAM to play them? Or worse, what if iTunes allocates virtual RAM on my hard drive? And what if I'm mounting the drive remotely?
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.
Copyright was conceived in a time when duplicating media was something that no one but publishers would ever care to do. Books were sold, read, and shared without ever making copies of them. But doing any one of those things on a computer means making a copy of electronic data, and the sole right to copy is no longer a reasonable understanding of intellectual ownership. If copyright is going to be relevant in twenty years, we're going to have to come to a very different understanding of what copyright entails.
Update: To be clear, the RIAA is not filing suit on the basis of CD ripping being illegal, though they do maintain that it is.