Calling things as they are is not on the menu for the RIAA.

The RIAA’s latest attempt at convincing people to not illicitly share copies of music comes under fire. The RIAA’s educational video teaches nothing about fair use—exceptions to the restrictions in copyright law which allow people to make copies of copyrighted works for certain uses. According to CNet news, the video narrator claims

Making copies for your friends, or giving it to them to copy, or e-mailing it to anyone is just as illegal as free downloading

which contradicts language in their online FAQ, a copy of which accompanies the video. The online version of the RIAA “Campus Downloading” FAQ mentions fair use exceptions which is particularly interesting to campus users because scholarly examination of copyrighted works happens every day.

But CNet doesn’t mention the worst part of the FAQ which completely misrepresents theft and copyright infringement.

One can stand against copyright infringement and do so without lying about relevant laws, but the RIAA is apparently unwilling to do this. Consider these Q&As from their FAQ:

Doesn’t the First Amendment give me the right to download and upload anything I want, including copyrighted music?

The answer is, no, it does not. What copyright law prohibits is theft, not free expression.

Is downloading and uploading music really stealing?
If it’s done without the permission of the copyright holder, it’s legally no different than walking into a music store, stuffing a CD into your pocket, and walking out without paying for it.

Neither of these responses is entirely true. What copyright law prohibits is not properly known as “theft”. There is a significant legal and physical difference between copyright infringement and stealing. Stealing works for physical copies but not to describe copying where the previous copy is left intact. The law differentiates between copyright infringement and theft. These laws also carry different punishments. Corporate copyright holders and their representatives have been pursuing more punitive copyright infringement punishments while trying to place new law under the rubric of copyright so that breaking any of those laws will constitute violation of copyright; the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a fine example of this. The DMCA has been called a “technology control law” by Prof. Eben Moglen in a panel discussion of the DMCA:

The fact that they put the word copyright in the title doesn’t make it a copyright law folks. It’s actually a technology control law designed to build a leak proof pipe from any production studio that the five companies that make music and the eight companies that make movies care to make. A leak proof pipe that goes from there to you eyeball or eardrum, and anything that provides a droplet worth of leak in that pipe is now some sort of terrible legal controversy that is threatening to bring civilisation to an end. It’s total bullshit.

According to CNet news, the RIAA’s reaction to critics of their video:

“First, we were told we should not enforce our rights,” said an RIAA representative responding to critics of the video. “Now we are told education is wrong, too. We won’t accept such a do-nothing approach. We’ll continue to work with respected higher-education groups to engage students to think critically about these issues.”

Thinking critically about the video will lead to students seeing this as a multinational corporate lobbying effort, not something most people can and spur discussions on how artists are routinely treated poorly by the studios when the system even if there were no copyright infringement. I know that people have told the RIAA what they’re saying here is wrong, so since they’ve staked out two other positions, when do we get to see them do things legally, fairly, and correctly? Keep in mind, this is the same organization that chose a sue-them-all approach which routinely means suing people who don’t infringe (like a professor with the same name as popular hip-hop artist Usher), people who don’t use computers, and threatening the family of an alleged copyright infringer who recently died. Is this really the kind of people you want to do business with?

If you’re a copyright holder looking for fair and effective enforcement of exclusion power, don’t let the RIAA speak for you. I encourage you to work with your customers and give them reasons to enjoy your copyrighted work in the way they want to (which sometimes means copying it from one device to another).