The RIAA attempts to rewrite copyright law

The music industry wants to make personal copies of music against the law. It really needs to join the 21st Century.

"Surely, you're joking!" I thought as I read Glyn Moody's take on recent rumblings from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Glyn was making the point that the music industry is hurting itself through its heavy-handed efforts to stamp out peer-to-peer file sharing/stealing.

He's right, but it's even worse than that, it turns out. The RIAA is actually trying to rewrite copyright law on the fly, as the Washington Post reports:

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 [music] industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer....

RIAA's hard-line position seems clear. Its Web site says: "If you make unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings, you're stealing. You're breaking the law and you could be held legally liable for thousands of dollars in damages."

No, not to someone else's computer. To your own computer. Like a backup copy. This is so clearly not against the law that I'm shocked the RIAA would bother with the attempt. Why, oh why, does the music industry insist on making things hard for itself?

Apparently because it's run by complete bozos:

The RIAA's legal crusade against its customers is a classic example of an old media company clinging to a business model that has collapsed. Four years of a failed strategy has only "created a whole market of people who specifically look to buy independent goods so as not to deal with the big record companies," Beckerman says. "Every problem they're trying to solve is worse now than when they started."

No sane company sues its customers. Adoption is the bread of economic life. If you have adoption, you have everything. The next step - getting people to pay for the goods they've adopted - is much easier than getting adoption in the first place.

Instead of figuring out novel models to capitalize on widespread adoption of their products, however, the music industry is trying to force the world to revert to the 20th Century. It's just not going to happen.

It's time for the music industry and its lackey, the RIAA, to join us in the 21st Century. The 21st Century will almost certainly not look kindly on your 20th-century business models. But that doesn't mean you can't make a lot of money. It just means you need to upgrade your model. It's really not that hard.

UPDATE: Engadget reports that the suit referred to above is about illegal downloading of pirated copies of songs, not copying a song to one's computer.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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