Sunday, March 11, 2007


Modern technology makes possible what only a few years ago would have seemed like miracles. Unfortunately, however, some of those miracles come with new ethical conundrums in tow.

Take M.W., a reader from Sunbury, Ohio: This past Christmas she received a new CD wallet, and was duly impressed with how many music CDs she could fit into it. She was so inspired that she decided to change over all of her music from cassette tapes to CDs. Therein rests the problem: M.W. can burn CDs on her computer, but her stereo system doesn't allow her to transfer music from a cassette tape to a CD, and she's reluctant to buy vast numbers of CDs that will replicate music she already has on tape.

One option presents itself in the form of her local public library, which has a pretty good CD collection that contains many of the same albums she's accumulated over the years. M.W. could check out a CD from the library, upload it onto her computer, burn her own copy onto a CD-R and then repeat the process until she had replicated as many cassette tapes as possible.

She wants to know, however, if it's ethical and/or legal to do this, assuming that she copies only music that she already owns.

"If yes," she asks, "do I need to keep the descriptive-paper part of the audiotapes when I get rid of them to prove that I purchased the music at one time?"

In short, M.W. wants to know whether it's possible to reproduce her cassette collection without violating anyone else's copyright.

Jonathan Lamy, director of communications for the Recording Industry Association of America -- the trade group that represents U.S. record companies -- says that he wishes everyone gave this much thought to making potentially illegal copies of music before they went ahead and did it.

No matter how thoughtful she's been, however, M.W. still would be wrong to make copies of any CD she borrowed from the library. That she happens to own a cassette version of the same recording doesn't enter into it. Owning music in one form, whether it's an LP, a cassette or a CD, does not give a person the legal right to borrow someone else's music and copy it for his or her own use.

The right thing for M.W. to do is either to buy replacement CDs for her cassette collection or, if that's too costly, to go to any of the number of legitimate music-downloading Web sites to purchase the individual songs she really wants from her old cassettes. Then she can burn these songs onto CD-Rs that she can keep in her new CD wallet.

Alternatively, if her collection is so large that it would be cheaper to go this route, she might buy a stereo or an add-on component that would enable her to copy from a cassette tape onto a CD-R. Anyone can legally copy an LP, cassette or CD that they've purchased onto a tape or CD-R for their own personal use.

Unless the copyright holder gives you permission to make copies, however, it's generally a fair assumption that making a copy of someone else's CD for your own use is out of bounds. For further information on what's fair game when copying CDs, visit and click on "the law."

As for the ethical perspective, it's the same as the legal one. Copying someone else's CD for your personal use means that the people who made the CD, including the people who wrote and performed the music, won't be compensated for their efforts. There's nothing right about that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Seglin:

Your article regarding the copying of CDs from the library onto one's hard drive or burning to blank CDs appeared in the March 11th edition of the Columbus Dispatch.

While not taking issue with what you wrote, I would have liked to have seen an opinion from someone not associated with the recording industry. It seems that "M.W." had already paid the royalties to the performers and to the record companies and that should allow her to "refresh" her collection to another format. After all, she's not acquiring new or additional music, she's simply changing the media on which the music is stored and played. I am not of the legal profession and could certainly be wrong, but from my layman's view: "It seems to me....."

Moreover, the reason I am writing is to offer another solution to "M.W.s" dilemma. She can burn her cassette-source music to CDs, and fairly inexpensively.

I have an extensive record (vinyl) collection and have enjoyed those records over the years. I heard of a company (Dartech....which stands for Digital Audio Restoration Technology) which offers programs which are used to restore the sound quality of vinyl recordings. It can remove the snap, crackle, and pops common to old records along with the hiss from wear and tear. I bought the program a couple of years ago and tried to do some restoring. My method of recording the music to the computer was, at best, crude. I didn't get a very good copy by playing the record on my stereo and feeding that into a mic input on my computer from the "line out" plugs on my amp. I was at an impasse; I couldn't restore that which I couldn't get a clean copy of in the first place.

Then I read about a turntable from Ion Audio. It plugs directly into your computer's USB port and it works like a charm. It was THE missing link in my restoration process. The audio level is correct and the interference I had experienced before has been completely eliminated. It also has leads that connect to a stereo should you wish to use it as a regular turntable. It also has a 1/8" input which "M.W." could use to play her cassettes directly into her computer. In her case, recording from cassette shouldn't require much restoration. She might, however, need to insert "song breaks" (tell the computer where one song ends and the next one begins). The Ion unit even comes with the necessary software for installation and recording. While many CD burning programs are available, I prefer to use Roxio for burning CDs of my restored music. The Ion unit lists for about $150, but I found mine at Costco online for $139, delivered right to my door. The Ion website says their products are available at Circuit City, Best Buy, and at other outlets.

Here are some links for products I mentioned: (type in "ion audio" in the search slot)

Please pass this along to "M.W."

Thank you,

Westerville, Ohio.