Legality of Copying CDs

After posting about using rip to copy audio CDROMs to a computer, it got me thinking. Is it legal to copy audio CDROMs? After all, having rights granted to someone else’s work usually requires a contract. Why are audio CDROMs different? This is is what the RIAA says about copying CDROMs:

Copying CDs

  • It’s okay to copy music onto an analog cassette, but not for commercial purposes.
  • It’s also okay to copy music onto special Audio CD-R’s, mini-discs, and digital tapes (because royalties have been paid on them) – but, again, not for commercial purposes.
  • Beyond that, there’s no legal “right” to copy the copyrighted music on a CD onto a CD-R. However, burning a copy of CD onto a CD-R, or transferring a copy onto your computer hard drive or your portable music player, won’t usually raise concerns so long as:
    • The copy is made from an authorized original CD that you legitimately own
    • The copy is just for your personal use. It’s not a personal use – in fact, it’s illegal – to give away the copy or lend it to others for copying.
  • The owners of copyrighted music have the right to use protection technology to allow or prevent copying.
  • Remember, it’s never okay to sell or make commercial use of a copy that you make.

I like the phrase “won’t usually raise concerns”. It’s my guess a decent IP lawyer could successfully argue that all CDROM copying is illegal. If they are successful, how could the music business make money based on assumed legal actions? Well, Windows Media Player and iTunes know what you have imported from CD. Since copyright lasts so long, I can see a day where if you have X percent of your audio files imported from CDROM, you will get a notice to pay up. Or even better, you could have a surcharge on future purchases until you are deemed paid in full. Why not?

Pressed CDROMs will go away soon. This will benefit the music business in two ways – low cost of distribution (and therefore more profit), and license agreements. Licensing will end this assumed right of ripping audio, while placing controls of what you can and cannot do with music.

Cheapo Discs

What A Music Store Looks Like. Cheapo Discs. Austin TX. 2011.


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