Yesterday’s post, “Optimize iTunes import settings for audio book CDs,” addressed the technical aspects of importing audiobooks from CD to digital formats. Today we’ll briefly address some of the copyright and licensing issues which are raised by this importing / encoding / ripping process for audiobooks.

Audiobooks Listing on my Zune
Creative Commons License photo credit: jc.westbrook

It’s important to be aware copyright / intellectual property issues are relevant when it comes to importing copyrighted audiobooks. While I’ve never heard of someone getting in trouble for importing an audiobook they purchased on CD into digital format with iTunes, the propriety of encoding / importing / ripping audiobooks which you check out of the library is potentially more contentious. Again, I’ve never read or heard of someone getting in trouble for this, but if we read the fine print (of an agreement your local library probably has on file somewhere) I’d bet it says something about digital copies of audiobooks not being authorized by the publisher / copyright holder. If you do import AAC or mp3 versions of library audiobooks to listen to on your own mobile audio player, and especially if you do this with your own children or students, consider DELETING the imported audiobook after you finish listening to it. Technically speaking, in most cases for copyrighted audiobooks, by checking one out of the library you have obtained a limited license to listen to it. You haven’t purchased it or obtained a license to keep your own copy of it forever, listening to it as long as you want. Situations like this are tricky because it’s so EASY to make digital copies. These are good conversations to have with your students as well as your own children.

Just because it’s EASY to do, it’s not necessarily LEGAL.

Overdrive is one company used by some libraries for digital audiobook downloads, and the following paragraph about copyright from Overdrive confirms my recommendations above:

For Content downloaded from a library service, at the end of the lending period, your license to the Content terminates, and you may no longer use or access the Content. At the end of the lending period, you are required to delete and/or destroy any and all copies of the Content. In the event OverDrive, the library or other rights holders determines you are violating permitted uses of the Content, we reserve the right to suspend or terminate your ability to use or access an OverDrive service or the Content.

This guidance on copyrighted materials can apply equally to audiobooks you checkout from a library on CD and then convert to a digital format yourself. Your “use license” for those materials is limited, not unlimited, so you should delete those files after you finish listening to them.

From a legal perspective, it is my understanding that the terms of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) prohibit ANY conversion of copyrighted materials to another format. This means if you buy an audiobook on CD or a movie on DVD, in the United States it’s technically illegal to use a program like iTunes (for audio) or Handbrake (for video) to convert those media files into other formats friendly for use on an iOS device or other portable media player. The reason these provisions of the DMCA are present can be traced back to who wrote and lobbied Congress for the DMCA: Big corporate music labels, Hollywood publishers and other media conglomerates. In their ideal world (which legally exists now in the United States) all consumers (educators, students, or other people) are required to PAY for NEW digital versions of intellectual property, EVEN when the same consumer has ALREADY paid for one version. We may not agree with this, but that’s how the law reads now in the United States.

If your organization is looking to convert older VHS or cassette tape media into digital formats, make sure you consult a lawyer about these issues before proceeding with a digitization project. In some cases if you maintain physical ownership of the original media files and restrict digital distribution of encoded media to the same quantity/quantities (only one user can simultaneously view a digitized copy of a copyrighted media file when only one copy is owned / licensed) then your lawyer may deem those limitations adequate to constitute a viable defense if your digitization initiative is ever challenged legally. If you ask media companies and publishers about this, however, I’m betting their answer will be to purchase NEW digital licenses for all your content.

Have you or your organization had experiences with media content digitization? Do you have recommendations for others embarking on or contemplating similar initiatives?

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  • RustyBadger

    The unfortunate fact is that the DMCA trumps whatever rights you may have under “Fair Use” exemptions in the Copyright Act. So even if your Act says you are allowed to rip media for use in the classroom, if it’s protected in any way (CSS in DVDs, for example), too bad for you.

    Here in Canada, our government is bowing to pressure from American lobbyists to pass similar legislation, and it’s taking all our efforts to fight it (and it’s turned into quite an ugly fight, too- with our Heritage Minister referring to those of us arguing against digital locks as “radical extremists”).

    As for personal experience, I work in a public school district, and I wear several hats: District Archivist, Media Technician, and Copyright Officer. We are currently engaged in a long-term digitisation program to convert all of our analogue materials to digital formats, and it’s no small task. Fortunately, we have an excellent organisation working on behalf of all the schools in our Province, to obtain favourable licensing terms for such projects. This has enabled us to save a lot of money on both new media purchases, as well as on performance licenses for use in our schools. In Canada, it’s also legal for libraries and archives to digitise content on obsolete media- this means we can digitise and burn to DVD all of our VHS tapes; we can copy all our old cassettes to CD, and our film reels, slides, and reel-to-reel recordings can also be digitised. We can then distribute that media over our network to teachers using our media-on-demand systems. Right now, this is quite legal, but if our new copyright act is given the Technological Protection Measures clause they’d like, we’ll be out of luck, because it would become illegal to break encryption (Macrovision on VHS tapes, for example), even if the purpose for which it was being done was legal.

    With regard to the article’s substance (specifically, audiobooks), I believe that while it may be technically illegal to rip an audiobook from a CD onto your computer in order to play it on your iPod, it doesn’t violate the spirit of the law, as long as you remember to delete it when you return the CD to the library. Many libraries are now loaning e-books and audiobooks electronically, and they contain built-in DRM that disables them after a certain time, so you don’t need to delete them yourself. That’s handy, but it unfortunately means many people can’t use them due to platform restrictions. In a classroom situation, there would be little legal support for a teacher who wanted to make copies for each of her students to use, just like with physical books. I’m not saying it would be WRONG, just illegal.

    Personally, I consider an audiobook to be a distinct product from a physical book, and I have no problem paying for it (or only borrowing it legally), even if I own the paper copy of the book. I don’t like paying for an electronic copy of a book I already own, however- especially at the prices publishers are charging for something that costs nothing to ‘create’. I’d also like an easier way to loan out my ebooks to friends, just like I would with a physical book. Right now, if I want to loan one out, I have to ‘steal’ a copy for my friend, and then hassle him to delete it when he’s done reading it. It’s a big pain.

  • Pat Burke

    I wish you would have addressed the issue of user participating in a subscription program, as in Audible.com when it comes to downloading audio books.  In my subscription, I am entitled to two d/l per month and while I used to transfer these to CD, I now use iPod and other devices.  My question: Can I donate old CD’s to a local library without copyright issues?  Can the library avoid copyright infringement if they allow these to be checked out? My email: [email protected].  Thanks!

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