RIAA defends itself, but stops short of defending personal copying

William Patry highlights Cary Sherman’s defence of the RIAA against the recent Washington Post article, offering further explaining for the quote that copying a song you bought is a “nice way of saying ‘steals just one song'” from a Sony BMG representative:

“The Sony person who (Fisher) relies on actually misspoke in that trial,” Sherman said. “I know because I asked her after stories started appearing. It turns out that she had misheard the question. She thought that this was a question about illegal downloading when it was actually a question about ripping CDs. That is not the position of Sony BMG. That is not the position of that spokesperson. That is not the position of the industry.”

I’m thrilled to be mistaken about that quote. I was worried for a while there. But, as Techdirt and CNET both point out, they missed a huge opportunity to defend the legality of ripping CDs for personal use.

From CNET (my emphasis):

“They go on to equivocate and say, ‘Well, usually it won’t raise concerns if you go ahead and transfer legally obtained music to your computer,'” Fisher said during the debate, “but they won’t go all the way and say that it’s a legal right.”

Here was an opportunity for Sherman to declare once and for all that copying CDs for personal use is lawful. He stopped short of that, saying that copyright law is too complex to make such sweeping statements. He did state that there is one foolproof way of discovering the RIAA’s policy on personal use: check the record.

“Not a single (legal) case has ever been brought (by the RIAA against someone for copying music for personal use),” Sherman said. “Not a single claim has ever been made.”

And Mike Masnick from Techdirt comments (my emphasis):

While I disagree with folks saying that it’s impossible to unfairly malign the RIAA, it is rather telling… to look at how the RIAA has responded to this debate. If they were smart and had any strategic PR sense at all (I know, I know, stop laughing…), someone at the RIAA should have come out quickly and made a clear statement saying: “Ripping CDs for personal use is, and always has been, perfectly legal. We will not, and have not, sued anyone who does that.” It’s an easy, proactive statement that the RIAA could make. It wouldn’t be conceding anything, as it’s a factual statement based on the law. Instead, the RIAA has remained mostly quiet or made more careful statements, rather than just coming out and saying: “Yes, you can rip your CDs for personal use.” And, for that, the RIAA should absolutely be maligned — not because of any hatred or anti-RIAA sentiment — but because it’s just dumb and self-defeating.

While it’s great news to hear the that RIAA is not claiming and has not ever claimed that ripping CDs for personal use is copyright infringement, they’ve stopped short of saying that they will not or cannot make this claim, which is an unfortunate missed opportunity.

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