The Internet is abuzz with news about the RIAA's recent brief, which contends that if a user rips music from a CD and converts it to an MP3 they are making "unauthorized copies" of audio content.
In a brief filed late last week, the RIAA said that the MP3 files on a PC owned by a file-sharing defendant who had admitted to ripping them himself were "unauthorized copies." You can read the Supplemental brief here (.pdf). Take a look at page 15, if you think you can stomach it.
The defendants in the Atlantic v. Howell case have have denied any copyright infringement, stating that MP3 files on their PC are and "always have been" there for private use. The RIAA says that cannot be so, because they were in their shared file directory on their hard-drive.
The only trouble with this news bit is that many news sites reporting about the brief did a terrible job. They concentrated their efforts at bashing the RIAA, while obviously not even bothering to read the 21-page brief. If you take the time to read it and take a closer look, you'll find that RIAA has set two conditions which need to be fulfilled in order for a ripped MP3 file to qualify as an unauthorized copy.
Here it is, on page 15: "Once Defendant converted Plaintiffs' recording into the compressed .mp3 format and they are in his shared folder, they are no longer the authorized copies distributed by Plaintiffs."
So, according to RIAA, in order to make an unauthorized copy it is not enough to just rip the music and make a copy for personal use, as the gung ho IT hacks would have you believe. To get in trouble with the law you also need to place it in a peer-to-peer shared folder which basically amounts to clear intent to distribute by anyone's standards.
Even if you have a dislike for the RIAA's ongoing witch hunt, as most people do, it still doesn't justify such severe accusations. You can still rip and copy your discs as long as the copies you've made are for personal use only, and you're not distributing them. Here is what the U.S. Supreme Court has stated about the issue, and you should probably trust them a bit more than tech news sites and FUD spreading forums.
The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it's been on their Website for some time now, that it's perfectly lawful to take a CD that you've purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod. There is a very, very significant lawful commercial use for that device, going forward.