Warning: Converting a CD to MP3 illegal in SA

You spend R150 on a CD and want to listen to them on your MP3 player. There is a snag – it is illegal to convert a CD into MP3s.

By - June 2, 2010
Warning: Converting a CD to MP3 illegal in SA

It’s no secret that the Recording Industry of South Africa (RiSA) has been fighting hard for the rights of musicians and publishers in South Africa. Part of that campaign is the StopPiracy.org.za website, which states that you may not “compress sound recordings to MP3s”.

This may come as a surprise to consumers who forked out anything between R100 and R200 for an original CD, and now wants to listen to this CD on their iPod or MP3 player.

When contacted for comment, RiSA representatives found and quoted the relevant pieces of legislation. Simply put, the Copyright Act of 1978 states, “You may not make a copy of a sound recording without the permission of the author.”

Dr Tobias Schönwetter from the Intellectual Property Research Unit at the University of Cape Town and legal lead of Creative Commons South Africa agrees with RiSA’s interpretation.

“Our act allows the making of copies of musical works for private use, which, on the face of it, seems to declare legal the compressing of legally obtained CDs. However, CDs are not only ‘musical works’ but are also protected as ‘sound recordings’ – and a similar private use exception for sound recordings regrettably doesn’t exist,” said Schönwetter.

This essentially means that you can’t ‘rip’ your CDs to any file format. “If you’re ripping it from a disc you’re making a copy,” says RiSA.

Andrew Rens, founding legal lead of Creative Commons South Africa, adds that you can compress a sound recording if you hold the copyrights to the sound recording.  “You can also compress a sound recording if rights to the sound recording are in the public domain,” says Rens.

This raises the question how you could legally listen to your CDs on your MP3 player?  The simple answer is:  You can’t!

RiSA suggests that people should purchase the music in digital format despite the fact that they may already own the CD.  “There are online stores where you can legally download MP3s,” RiSA responds. “Musica, Pick ‘n Play, Nokia…”

What then about the more esoteric genres of music one might be able to find a CD of, but won’t be able to download an MP3 of? To this RiSA could offer no solution.

“This clearly illustrates the need not just to reform copyright law but reform it in a progressive way that takes consumer’s rights into account,” Rens said.

Copyright laws in South Africa << comments and views

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