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RIAA chief says ripping okay, Sony BMG lawyer "misspoke" during Jammie Thomas trial

Nilay Patel

Now that the furor has died down over the Washington Post's questionable piece about the RIAA supposedly suing Jeffrey Howell for ripping CDs, it's time to hear what the RIAA actually has to say -- and it's surprisingly sensible. Speaking to NPR, RIAA president Cary Sherman flatly said "the story is just wrong." Sherman went on to say that the RIAA hasn't ever prosecuted anyone for ripping or copying for personal use, and that the only issue in the Jeffrey Howell case was -- as always -- sharing files on Kazaa. Perhaps most interestingly, Sherman directly addressed the "ripping is just a nice way of saying 'steals one copy'" comment made by Sony BMG's anti-piracy counsel in the Jammie Thomas case, saying that the attorney "misspoke," and that neither Sony BMG or the RIAA agreed with that position.

Of course, it wasn't all sunshine and cupcakes -- Sherman refused to straight-up answer the question of whether or not ripping was legal, saying instead that "there are 100 hypotheticals" and that "copyright law is very complicated." Of course, what he's really saying is that courts haven't made an clear determination of fair use regarding ripping and that he's covering the industry's collective ass -- which explains his hilariously out-of-touch explanation that making copies onto "analog cassettes, special audio CD-Rs, minidiscs, and digital tapes" is legal, because those are all expressly allowed by law. On the other hand, Sherman also said that RIAA's interpretation of the law "doesn't really matter," because "not a single claim has ever been brought over personal use -- [the Washington Post story is] really unfortunate, it's misleading consumers, and it's simply not true." It's a fascinating interview, and it's more than worth a listen if you've got any interest at all in copyright issues -- regardless of what side you're on.

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