So, just to be clear. We're all thieves here, right?
That's the implication of documents filed by the RIAA earlier this week in Atlantic v. Howell, yet another file-swapping case underway in Arizona.
At issue: whether simply putting a CD into your PC and ripping the tunes to MP3s constitutes "unauthorized copies" (i.e., stolen goods) in the recording industry's eyes.
Yes, says attorney Ray Beckerman, who carefully tends the Recording Industry vs. the People blog. Not really, say some bloggers, who have parsed the RIAA's language about "unauthorized copies" to mean only those MP3s residing in your Kazaa share folder.
It's really a moot argument. The fact is, if the recording industry could ban ripping MP3s outright --- or charge you money for it -- they'd do it in a heartbeat. Your right to make personal copies of music you've legally purchased stems from the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, which the recording industry staunchly opposed. The RIAA tried to kill portable MP3 players in 1999, claiming the AHRA didn't apply to them, and is currently trying to kill off your ability to cache satellite radio transmissions. It has declared open war on consumers who dare to burn CDs from their digital music collections and give them to friends as gifts.
Along with the movie and television industries, the record companies have been trying to erode -- if not erase -- your Fair Use rights ever since. Unfortunately, they have a big pal in Uncle Sam, which earlier this month intervened in the Jammie Thomas case, declaring the US$222,000 fine imposed by the court to be constitutional. Apparently the wars on terror, crime, and government corruption aren't quite enough to fill the DOJ's docket.
Sympathetic geeks have started an online forum where Jammie Thomas fans can gab about her case -- though, frankly, you'd find more people at a "Pauly Shore sings songs of Bertolt Brecht" concert than you will at FreeJammie. To raise money for her defense, Thomas is selling T-shirts, sweatshirts and thongs with the slogan "Free Jammie" on them. (It's not clear whether the thongs are pre-worn, thought that shouldn't deter sales. As we all know, sharing songs is stealing, but sharing thongs is perfectly OK.)
Why should anyone else care about the trials and tribulations of a file-swapping Minnesota housewife? As Security Focus blogger (and attorney) Mark Rasch points out:
there are several problems with the Thomas case. First and foremost, it really does not recognize - as current copyright law fails to recognize - the way normal, and presumedly law-abiding, people use the Internet. Indeed, the odds are very good that you committed a copyright infringement this morning, and, if not, you will by the end of the day.
In other words: We're all Jammie Thomas. Most of us just haven't gotten caught yet.