When is it OK to copy digital media?

When is it OK to copy digital media?

Summary: The response to the digital media ethics poll I posted earlier this week has been overwhelming. Based on these results, thne RIAA and its allies are clearly losing the battle of ideas. Here's a summary of the voting so far, along with links so you can add your opinion.


The response so far to my digital media ethics poll has been overwhelming. More than 7,500 votes have been cast so far, with nearly 500 comments posted in the Talkback sections for the introductory post and the poll itself. I plan to keep the voting open at least through the end of the weekend. So if you haven't voted yet, do it soon.

Here's a summary of the results so far, followed by some preliminary analysis:

  • The overwhelming majority (96%) think that buying a CD and making a copy for personal use is OK. But 40% think that some types of copies are more acceptable than others. I'm sifting through the comments to see if I can refine that conclusion. Vote or see detailed results here.
  • More than four out of five respondents so far think it's wrong to rip a CD to your hard drive and then sell the original CD. More people approve of simple CD sharing among friends. I'm struck, though, by a significant gap in perceptions: A total of 32% of respondents think it's always or sometimes OK to buy a CD and make a copy to give to a friend. But 41% think it's OK to borrow a friend's CD and rip it to your hard drive. I'm not sure I see the distinction. Do you? Vote or see detailed results here. Then add your comment in the Talkback section.
  • A large majority (82%) believe that stripping copy protection (DRM) from purchased music files is perfectly OK. On the other hand, three out of four readers think it's wrong to copy a rented DVD. Vote or see detailed results here.
  • And finally, 75% of you think it's just fine to download a torrent of a recorded TV show from a broadcast network, but a significant percentage (34-42%) think the rules should be different for premium services like HBO or for programs that are available through authorized channels. Vote or see detailed results here.

The entertainment industry wants you to believe that making a copy of a music CD or a DVD for a friend is digital shoplifting (or, in their cringe-worthy neologism, "songlifting"). Based on the preliminary results of this poll, with more than 40% of respondents giving a thumbs-up to some forms of casual copying among friends, the RIAA is clearly losing that battle of ideas. And the technically savvy ZDNet readership might be more sympathetic to the RIAA's position than the rest of the market; a 2006 Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg News survey found that 69% of the teenagers they polled think it's not just right but it's legal to copy a CD from a friend.

I'll have some more thoughts on why the entertainment industry has done such a crappy job of coping with the analog-to-digital conversion next week, with a much more detailed look at this poll's final results and your comments.

Topic: Legal

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  • RE: When is it OK to copy digital media?

    I think the difference in the otherwise symmetrical
    situations of ripping a lent cd and lending a cd to rip
    is that if offered, I'll know that a cd is one I was going
    to buy or not. If I wasn't going to buy it, then no harm
    no foul.

    Let me add that though I think sharing with friends
    should be okay, I don't do it. It would be my point of
    view that the costs of crippling technology for
    friend2friend abatement far exceeds the benefits.

    Music has always propagated via someone saying
    "This is cool, check it out." This works for music
    because songs are short and music can be enjoyed as
    background. The digitally networked world means that
    within four or five edges, there are thousands of
    people who can communicate in a matter of minutes,
    whereas before, because of geographical dispersion, it
    would have taken weeks if it was at all possible.
    • RE: When is it OK to copy digital media?

      Agreed. In my mind, I think it all goes to intent. If I burn a CD for a friend, my intent is to expose them to something they may not have heard before, and it's typically a mix CD. What will likely happen is they will like a few tunes from the mix and go out and purchase the entire CDs from those artists, and for the songs they didn't like, they simply won't listen again. This is good for the music business (music being exposed from a trusted friend is more likely to be carefully listened to than music on the radio or other medium).

      Ripping a borrowed CD, on the other hand, has a much different intent. This is an action that says, 'I already know I enjoy this music, but instead of paying for it, I'll borrow a friend's and make a copy.' The exposure is done, the intent is simply to avoid payment.
    • RE: When is it OK to copy digital media?

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  • Easy answer for the discrepency

    [i]"I???m struck, though, by a significant gap in perceptions: A total of 32% of respondents think it???s always or sometimes OK to buy a CD and make a copy to give to a friend. But 41% think it???s OK to borrow a friend???s CD and rip it to your hard drive. I???m not sure I see the distinction. Do you?"[/i]

    Your verbage isn't exact enough. In the first case you explicitly state that I'm going to copy a [b]purchased[/b] CD. In the second you don't mention the provenance of the friend's CD. Did he buy it? Did he produce it himself? Could I go buy it if I wanted to or is it out of print?

    As I voted and stated in the previous talkbacks while the ethical answer to the first question is "no", the answer to the second must be "depends" simply because you don't state the CDs provenance.
    • Not so easy answer

      The largest difference between the two questions (8%) weas in the unqualified "yes" response. The difference in the numbers of those who voted "Sometimes" or "Depends" was only 4%. So your explanation, while it sounds satisfying, doesn't really explain the discrepancy.
      Ed Bott
      • how is this

        In the first case, you buy the CD and your friend gets free music.
        In the second case, your friend puts the cash down, and you get free music.

        Make more sense now?
        • Re-read the original post in this thread.

          [i]"In the first case, you buy the CD and your friend gets free music.
          In the second case, your friend puts the cash down, and you get free music."[/i]

          Not necessarily - I go to a lot of local music events where the band is working hard to get its message out and they give away CD's as part of the event. They very often say "Please give copies to your friends".

          As originally mentioned, the question of provenance must be answered. If Ed changed the wording of the question to clearly state that the friend's copy was a Purchased, RIAA-controlled recording, then you would be correct.
        • I think more like this

          The first case is more like you broadcasting the music over the radio without paying a royalty.

          The second is more like you recording a broadcast from the radio.

          I personally don't think either recording someone else's CD or letting someone record yours is right but I think some may view the difference this way.
      • Here's how I'd explain it

        I know that if I'm given a copy and I like the CD, I'll buy it and if I don't, I'll delete it. I don't have any confidence that my friends will do the same. In fact, I'm certain they won't.

        That said, I never accept an offer to make a copy, but I've had someone give it to me, and I've kept them for a while before tossing them.
  • It really is simple

    It all comes down to "the number of copies" (I will clarify). Sharing CDs between friends is OK so long as no one makes another copy since only the holder of the CD can listen to the music at any one time. Backups are always OK for the purchaser, but they must remain backups. If they then use the backups and give the CD away, then 2 copies for one paid for is being used.

    So long as the simple rule, only ONE copy can be listened to for any ONE purchased, whatever the scenario, everything is fine. Anything else is a loss in revenue to the artist (I say that tongue in cheek because Artists don't really care, AFTER all payments are paid back, they might see a MAX of 7c on the dollar, the rest goes to the cartel).

    So, in summary, only one instance can/is being listened to per song purchased. There is an exception, I call it the family fair use rule. The CD is purchased as a household item, and no reasonable person should be expected to buy a CD for each family member that wants to listen or tip to MP3, etc, despite the RIAA wanting it to be so.

    For download TV shows, I have no opinion, never have, very little worth watching on TV let alone downloading.

    • I disagree.

      At home, I have a CD.
      At work I've ripped that CD to my computer, and play it.
      For the car, I've copied it to tape.
      For working it the field, I've ripped it and put in on my Palm PDA.

      I bought a single format. I now have this in 4 formats all in use. Why is this wrong?
      • It isn't wrong

        Fourteen hundred copies for your own personal use (or the family exception I listed) so you can load it on every concievable piece of equipment you own is perfectly fine. The key is, at any given time, only ONE instance of the song is being played and listened to buy the person who purchased the content.

        I DO NOT subscribe to the idea you have to pay for a CD version, an MP3 version, an AAC version, a FLAC version, ...

        Of course, I assume you only listen to one device at a time. :D

    • This Is a Very Interesting Idea

      That I happen to agree with. I've also described some of my other thoughts about this subject in my post (with the title "My Thoughts . . ."
  • Two statements resolve all the issues.

    It's stealing when the content owner is deprived of a sale.
    (Even when the sale cannot be made when the theft occurs. Examples include a price beyond the individual's resources and an unavailable [out-of-print] song.)

    The content holder can set restrictions on the use of the material after the sale. It's a contract.
    (Assumes that the content holder will not require something which cannot legally be required.)

    So, the only relevant fact necessary for each decision about the situation listed is the relevant condition in the contract when the content was purchased. Unfortunately, this was left out.

    I wish to add, irrelevantly, of course, that I have sometimes exceeded the posted speed limit.
    Anton Philidor
    • Second added observation.

      Illegal file-sharing has been shown to make money for the content companies. Their determination to attack their customer reduces their profits when successful.
      Anton Philidor
      • Even if true, it doesn't pass the test.

        Your test and mine are the same. You may in fact be right, that sharing does lead to more sales, however, someone still had to rationalize taking something that they knew they didn't own, decide to stick it to the man, or everybody does it, in the first place.

        Being an old fart (yeah, 40, lol), there is one simple test. If doing something isn't the right thing to do, it is wrong. People hate when called on this.

        Is downloading an unpaid for song the right thing to do?
        Is giving a copy of a cd to a friend the right thing to do?

        It is at least a little heartening to see that ~3/4 of the respondents at least know right from wrong (w.r.t. copyright infringement).

        • Doing the right thing. Or not.

          Many people do things they know are wrong, or at least leave them at risk of negative consequences.


          "But the number of people sharing files online at any given time has risen 69 percent to almost 9.4 million since 2003, when the lawsuits began, according to BigChampagne LLC, research firm that tracks file-sharing traffic."


          That number seems low; I think I read a quarter of the US population is file-sharing. Still, it does show the response to the RIAA companies' actions.

          Sometimes doing the wrong thing is ordinary.
          Anton Philidor
          • You're confusing terms

            "Sometimes doing the wrong thing is ordinary. "

            Illegal does NOT equal wrong. Especially when corporation buy the laws.
          • And "not guilty" does not mean "innocent"

            Still, given the potential negative consequences of violating a law (or a contract enforced by government's police power), it can be considered wrong to put one's self at risk. Even if one believes the law to be unjust.

            More idealistically, civil disobedience is violating an unjust law in order to bring attention to the injustice.
            It's appropriate to obey an unjust law not because of the law itself, but because of a generalized respect for law which applies even to stupid examples.

            Choosing which laws to obey can be more complex than copying a tune.
            Anton Philidor
          • Technically Not Guilty does

            Technically one is Innocent until proven guilty and "Not Guilty" means they were not proven guilty and therefore by default they are innocent.