Nilay Patel has posted his latest installment of Know Your Rights on Engadget. Today’s subject: why copyright law is so complicated.
Patel discusses the judgment in the RIAA peer-to-peer lawsuit against Jammie Thomas of Brainerd Minnesota. Thomas was “found liable for copyright infringment for sharing music online”, and was ordered to pay US$220,000 in damages, as reported yesterday in Engadget , the New York Times , the Register, Wired and CNET. Thomas claims she will try to pay the award herself, and she will not ask for financial help. Then again, she won’t refuse donations, either. Declan McCullagh posted his comments on CNET, and claimed that the judgment was far too high.
Settle with the RIAA… or else
Thomas had refused an earlier settlement offer from the RIAA. Several defendants have paid the industry organization an average of US$4,000 to avoid a trial.
Federal District Court Judge Michael J. Davis issued a key ruling in the case that tipped the scales towards the music industry. Davis ruled that the record companies and the RIAA did not have to prove that any songs had been transmitted from Thomas’ computer. Thomas had made 24 music files available for sharing, and that act qualified as infringement.
Thomas didn’t help her own case when she gave different answers about her computer’s hard drive. It was obvious that she had replaced her hard drive. The industry lawyers claimed Thomas knowingly wiped out evidence of her file-sharing activities.
The defendant also denied that she had a Kazaa account. Kazaa is a popular file-sharing service. Lawyers presented evidence that a Kazaa username was linked to the IP address of Thomas’ computer.
I do get questions from students about how to download free music and video from the Internet. My usual answer is to find a legal source. There are plenty of sites like LegalTorrents that offer free, licensed music for download. Many artists post free downloads. There’s an unending stream of giveaways and promotions that give users a few free downloads.
Rip your CDs
There are also services that will rip or convert a user’s music CDs to music files. If you bought the CD, you do have the right to convert the songs to digital files, as long as you do not share the files.
I’ve used one service, MusicShifter, to convert most of my CD collection to FLAC files. It took about 2 weeks from start to finish, using USPS Priority Mail. That’s much quicker than ripping the CDs one-at-a-time into iTunes on my own computer.
I could have ordered MP3 files, but FLAC files use a lossless open source encoding standard. This page on etree.org has a good discussion of how FLAC works. It’s trivial to convert a FLAC file to MP3 or another format.
While the Thomas judgment may be overturned or modified, it’s more expensive to download unlicensed music today than it was last week.