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Amazon Autorip : How Is That Legal?

For those people that know me, there are three things that I count as my favorite past-times: coding, music, and travel.   The intersection of the first two elements has me always interested in anything to do with technology and the intersection with the music industry.

One of those intersections happens to occur right near home, both physically and in a business sense.   Charleston based AbundaTrade, whom I have consulted for on multiple occasions, has been talking about taking care of your music CDs while turning them into a cloud based MP3 file.    However there have been a lot of bumps in that road.  Most notably the “recording industry lawyers” making it clear that moving physical CDs into a digital format was illegal as it “changes the format of the music”.

Odd argument since CDs are inherently digital.  Even more odd since Amazon is now doing EXACTLY THAT with their new “Autorip” service.   But just how did Amazon get away with this?

Turns out there is a back door to copyright law that Amazon has leveraged.   Lucky for Amazon, they are a big enough brand to actually fight off the billion-dollar lawyers that the music industry uses to squash just about everyone.   Thanks to Amazon, this “little gap” in copyright law is probably going to be exploited.  Often.   At least until the “big time lawyers”, you know… the guys that almost got SOPA shoved down our throats… find  a way to close the hole through their political puppets.   But until then, the hole is there.

Amazon is basing their legitimacy of the Autorip service on this part of copyright law:

You can make copies of a music CD for your own personal use BUT you must own the physical medium.

Courts have repeatedly deemed this fair use and permissible under law.

Amazon leans on things like “best effort” and “reasonable doubt” by making some very basic rules about this service.   They will add the songs from any physical CD you purchase to your online cloud account only AFTER the CD has been shipped and is on its way to you.

Obviously there are a lot of issues from there, but that is for the customer, the record labels, and Amazon t sort out later.  Amazon’s legal team clearly thinks that they are off the hook when it comes to the “nitty gritty”.  Like, what if the user never gets the CD?  What if they sell it?   What if they throw it in the trash?  Or give it to a friend never to see it again.    I guess as long as Amazon can say “hey, we told them they have to delete the songs if they CD goes away and WE KNOW we shipped them the CD” then they are good in the eyes of the law.

Lesser companies may not have the deep pockets it will take to fend off the billion-dollar law firms of the record labels and thus may have a more difficult battle. Frivolous legal action coming from billion-dollar firms can just as easily bankrupt a small company as legitimate claims.   So whether or not a company like AbundaTrade can afford to take the same gamble Amazon has taken has yet to be seen.

Personally, I think more companies need to follow in Amazon’s footsteps.    The record industry has created a travesty of licensing fees while fattening the lawyers and recording industry groups while making MOST artists poor.  The few mega-stars driving around in their Ferrari’s are the exceptions that the industry flaunts as if to say “what do you mean artists are poor”?   Trust me, they are.   More than 90% of  license revenue never gets to the actual song writers of performers.

That is not to say that I think you should just start ripping CDs t oMP3s and handing it off to the next person to do the same.   The artists and song writers deserve to be paid a fair wage for their efforts.    However the archaic laws that the recording industry has pushed through our legislation serve only to make them fat.   They need to be eliminated with newer digital-centric methods for tracking music and getting revenue back to the people that are the creative talent behind what we listen to.

Doing so not only makes sharing and transfer of music easier, it will put significant downward pressure on music pricing while getting MORE revenue to the artists.  Current a 99-cent music track averages 8-or-9 cents back to the artist.    29-cent music tracks with 15-cents back to the artist?   I’m all for that.  First step?  Eliminate most of the archaic-and-overly-fat recording industry middle-men, replace the Performance Rights Organizations with a much leaner and more tech savvy internet-centric organization, and get SoundExchange out of the way so they stop skimming off a large chunk of all Internet music transfers with little-to-no benefit provided to the artists.

In a perfect world we would all be able to rip CDs, download music, send it to friends, share it, and generally “spread the wealth”.  Through the use of technology and by eliminating the “keep us fat” laws that surround this process today, we will all share a better music experience.    Artists will be fairly compensated.  More importantly, what is considered “theft” or “jumping through holes in copyright law” today will become routine practice.

Share the music.  Share the wealth.

I think we are all for that.

Thank you Amazon for opening Pandora’s box.   Hopefully this is another step toward music and technical nirvana.


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