Copying Music to CD: The Right, the Wrong, and the Law
by Robert A. Starrett

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Reporting on CD-Recordable and the electronic media industry in general becomes more like studying for a law exam every day. On the surface, the issue of what type of CD-R usage constitutes copyright violations seems a simple one: copying discs containing copyrighted material, such as commercial audio CDs, for re-distribution and sale constitutes piracy, and clearly represents a breach of the copyright holder's right to protect his or her work.

But what about using CD-R to copy, say, a favorite audio CD, or compiling tracks from various discs in a user's private collection for an enhanced individual listening experience? What are the copyright issues in that case? What constitutes a consumer's "fair use" of copyrighted material that he or she has purchased legally? And how significant does such an issue become when the widespread availability of copying-capable tools and the newfound cheapness of CD recorders makes the technology accessible to a potential mass audience with exactly such aims in mind?

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Determining what the United States Copyright Act has to say about using CD-R in a "home-taping"-type context requires research, interpretation, and time; what's clear right now, however, is that the proliferation of new tools that make copying audio to CD an end-user-friendly process has got the record industry on the run. The release of Adaptec's Spin Doctor and Jam, and CeQuadrat's Just Audio, and Elektroson's Gear Audio gives the user solid, audio-specific tools for making "greatest hits" or "party discs" from their own collections for private use. The new tools also give those who don't respect the rights of music copyright holders new opportunities to create "pirate" discs for subterranean sale or gift-giving that deprive those copyright holders of deserved royalties.
While no one will deny that some people borrow and copy music from others and few will argue against the rights of artists and record companies to make money from the materials that they produce, the majority of disc copying is done by individuals who want to have a convenient mix of songs on a single disc, extracted from CDs, tapes, or LPs that they already own. But if there are laws, rules, guidelines, or ethical considerations governing the copying of music--even for private use--few users are aware of what those laws are and how they can or should be applied.

What is right and what is wrong? What types of copying are permissible and what are not? The answer--no surprise--depends on who you ask.

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