Copyright watchers not quite Facebook-worthy

Hmmm, I wonder if Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), is an active member of Facebook. I'm thinking probably not.

Hmmm, I wonder if Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), is an active member of Facebook. I'm thinking probably not.

The popular social networking site evangelizes the idea of sharing, and encourages Facebook members to "share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet".

I'd like to think that I'm a generous person. I enjoy surprising my friends with small gifts even when it's not their birthday, and I have no qualms sharing the things I hold dear with my close pals.

And the one thing I am passionate about is music. I have, on several occasions, ripped various audio tracks from my CD collection to make a compilation of songs that would help cheer up a friend who's feeling down.

But, the RIAA would probably have me know that it's illegal for me to do that, despite the fact that all my original CDs are legitimate copies and I don't gain any financial benefits from the distribution.

According to the industry body, I'm violating copyright laws by simply making a copy and e-mailing it to people I know.

So the next time my friends ask for a copy of that great audio track that's playing from my CD, I would probably have to say, "Sorry, no can do". Not quite my idea of good social behavior.

But, it's either that or I could face a hefty fine running up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Earlier this month, the RIAA fined 30-year-old Jammie Thomas US$220,000 for illegally sharing copyright music online. That's US$9,250 for each of the 24 songs the Association had focused on.

And lest you think the RIAA only has legal powers in the United States, there are similar local associations including one in Singapore, Japan and New Zealand.

The RIAA's Sherman says the lawsuit against Thomas isn't about "being in court or winning monetary judgments". In fact, the organization's antipiracy efforts is really about cultivating a marketplace that he says rewards "investment in creativity" and compensates those "who make the best music in the world". "We target theft," he adds.

Still, I can't comprehend how a genuine desire to spread the joys of music amongst those I care for, will adversely harm this marketplace and deprive the world's greatest music producers of their millions.

"Theft", as Sherman puts it, isn't what I have in mind at all when I pass a CD containing my favorite tracks to a friend. In fact, I make it a point never to rip an entire album--taking only individual tracks from various CDs. If my friends like the complete album, they'll have to fork out money to purchase it from the music store, just like I did.

And it's not just about sharing. When I paid good money to acquire legitimate content, I should be allowed to consume it in any way I want--be it when I'm in the car, in the office, or in front of my home computer.

There are also audiophiles who make and play off copies to avoid damaging the original CDs.

The RIAA has acknowledged that it is unlikely to be overly concerned about people who make and transfer copies for their personal use. I'm also pretty sure the Association would rather spend their time and efforts prosecuting offenders who clearly infringe copyright laws for commercial gains.

However, the fact of the matter remains that while I don't fit those demographics, there's still a chance that the RIAA--and industry bodies like them--could take me to court if they wanted to.

Perhaps it's time to rethink this piece of legislation.