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CD Piracy

The following information was obtained from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Be sure to visit their web site.

About Piracy

Piracy: On the Street

Digital music theft often grabs headlines, but millions of illegal music CDs are manufactured and sold in the United States each year. They can be manufactured by corrupt CD plant operators as well as in clandestine operations engaged in the large-scale burning of music to blank CD-R discs that are then sold in flea markets, on street corner tables, even in local retail stores. The copying and trafficking of pirated music is an increasingly sophisticated trade plied by savvy multi-state criminal operations that distribute illegal product designed to resemble authentic CDs and replace legitimate sales.

But what is the crime? Why is this important? Who gets hurt? The answers are simple. The crime is theft. If music is important to you, then this is an important crime. And everyone who makes, enjoys or earns a living in music is hurt.

Think about it: the makers of fake products don’t pay the songwriter, the musician, or the recording studio costs. They don’t develop new artists or finance the promotion or the marketing of new music. Music pirates aren’t in the music business, they are in the plastics business. They buy and sell plastic and get consumers to pay them 10 to 20 times their cost for a blank disc by simply loading that plastic up with stolen music.

We also know that not only music creators and fans are impacted by theft of music but so too are taxpayers. One credible study by the Institute for Policy Innovation pegs music piracy’s ANNUAL harm at $12.5 billion dollars in losses to the U.S. economy as well as more than 70,000 lost jobs and $2 billion in lost wages to American workers.

In short: legitimate sales are being replaced by sales of counterfeit goods, and the people who create,  package and legally sell music are paying the price. The damage is real and demonstrable and undercuts the economic foundation of the most creative and vibrant music industry in the world.

We are fortunate to have federal, state and local law enforcement working tirelessly to combat street piracy – a problem that costs local economies millions of dollars in tax revenue and is frequently tied to other criminal activities. Each year, hundreds of law enforcement departments across the country engage in thousands of anti-piracy actions. Yet the sophisticated, multi-state operations of today’s pirate trade demand even greater awareness and action across the board – from us, our partners in the music community, law enforcement and music fans.

When consumers buy the real thing, everyone wins – not only the fan who bought a high-quality CD, but also the enormous cast of industry players working behind the scenes to bring music to your ears.  That cast includes songwriters, recording artists, audio engineers, computer technicians, talent scouts and marketing specialists, producers,  publishers and everyone else involved in making music.

Tips for Consumers

The RIAA offers the following tips to help consumers avoid illegal music:

Remember the Adage “You Get What You Pay For”: Even if you are hoping to get your favorite albums at a discount, new or used, extremely low prices might indicate pirated product.

Watch for Compilations that are “Too Good to Be True”: Many pirates make illegal “dream compilation” CDs, comprised of songs by numerous artists on different music labels.

Read the Label: If the true name and address of the manufacturer are not shown, it is most likely not legitimate product. These products often do not contain a bar code. Furthermore, if the music label listed is a company you’ve never heard of, that should be another warning sign.

Look for Suspicious Packaging: Carefully look over the packaging and beware of products that do not look genuine. Packages with misspelled words, blurry graphics, weak or bad color should all raise red flags. Inferior quality print work on the disc surface or slip sleeve cover, as well as the lack of original artwork and/or missing label, publisher, and distributor logos on discs and packaging, are usually clear indicators that the product is pirated. CDs with loose or no shrink wrap, or cheaply made insert cards, often without liner notes or multiple folds, are probably not legitimate product.

Watch for Product Being Sold in Unusual Places: CDs sold in non-traditional venues, like flea markets or street corners, are probably not legitimate.

Avoiding Counterfeit CDs

Download the RIAA's Identifying Unauthorized Sound Recordings (PDF) Download Adobe Reader

The Law

Unauthorized Copying is Against the Law

Copyright law protects the value of creative work. When you make unauthorized copies of someone’s creative work, you are taking something of value from the owner without his or her permission. Most likely, you’ve seen the FBI warning about unauthorized copying at the beginning of a movie DVD. Though you may not find these messages on all compact discs or music you’ve downloaded from the Internet, the same laws apply. Federal law provides severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized reproduction, distribution, rental or digital transmission of copyrighted sound recordings. (Title 17, United States Code, Sections 501 and 506).

What the Law Says and What it Means

Making unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings is against the law and may subject you to civil and criminal liability. A civil law suit could hold you responsible for thousands of dollars in damages. Criminal charges may leave you with a felony record, accompanied by up to five years of jail time and fines up to $250,000. You may find this surprising. After all, compact discs may be easily be copied multiple times with inexpensive CD-R burning technology. Further, when you’re on the Internet, digital information can seem to be as free as air. U.S. copyright law does in fact provide full protection of sound recordings, whether they exist in the form of physical CD’s or digital files. Regardless of the format at issue, the same basic principal applies: music sound recordings may not be copied or distributed without the permission of the owner.

Making Physical Copies of Sound Recordings

  • It’s okay to copy music onto an analog cassette, but not for commercial purposes.
  • It’s also okay to copy music onto special Audio CD-R’s, mini-discs, and digital tapes (because royalties have been paid on them) – but, again, not for commercial purposes.
  • Beyond that, there’s no legal “right” to transfer the copyrighted music contained on a CD onto a CD-R without permission. However, burning a copy of a CD onto a CD-R, or transferring a copy onto your computer hard drive or your portable music player, will usually not raise concerns so long as:
    • The copy is made from an authorized original CD that you legitimately own, and
    • The copy is just for your personal use. It is not a personal use – in fact, it is illegal – to give the copy away or lend it to others for copying.
  • The owners of copyrighted music have the right to use protection technology to allow or prevent copying.
  • Remember, it is never okay to sell or make commercial use of a copy that you make.

Are there occasionally exceptions to these rules? Sure. A “garage” or unsigned band that has full ownership of its recordings might want you to copy or download them to gain exposure and build a following. However, it is better to be safe than sorry – don’t assume that downloading or burning is legal just because technology makes it easy to do so. Permission from the true owner of the sound recording is the key.

*This information is intended to educate consumers about the issues associated with the downloading, uploading and consumer copying of music. It is not intended to offer legal advice or be a comprehensive guide to copyright law and the commercial uses of music.

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