The Washington Post has backed off a story that erroneously accused the recording industry of trying to criminalize ripping CDs to a computer.
The Post issued a correction Saturday,the paper triggered a wave of media coverage by claiming that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was trying to outlaw the very common practice of copying music from a CD onto a computer or iPod.
"A Dec. 30 Style and Arts column incorrectly said that the recording industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer," the Post's correction reads. "In a copyright infringement lawsuit the industry's lawyer argued that the actions of an Arizona man, the defendant were illegal because the songs were located in a shared folder on his computer for distribution on a peer-to-peer network."
The reference to "shared folder" was key. In the Post's story, the writer quoted from a legal brief filed by the RIAA in the case of Jeffrey Howell, an Arizona man accused by recording companies of illegal file sharing. The author of the Post's story said that the RIAA maintained "that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer."
But anyone reading the brief will see that in all such references, the RIAA was arguing that it was illegal for someone to make copies and then distribute those copies over file-sharing networks.
Soon after the story appeared, several high-profile blogs, including Techdirt, Gizmodo, and Engadget, wrote that something was amiss.
Mike Masnick at Techdirt noted that other previous stories about the RIAA's legal brief had been debunked.
"Unfortunately (and for reasons unclear to me), the Washington Post has revived the story," Masnick wrote on Jan. 2. "That's simply not true."
Nonetheless, dozens of other media sites repeated the Post's claims. The Web was filled with headlines like "RIAA Goes After 'Personal Use' Doctrine," "We're All Thieves to the RIAA," and "RIAA Equates Ripping With Stealing."
In response to the Post's decision to correct the story, the RIAA issued a brief statement on Monday: "We appreciate that the Washington Post cleared the record."
Editor's note: Greg Sandoval is a former Washington Post staff writer.