A real quick post on the RIAA's suit against Jeffrey Howell which has exploded due to an article in the Washington Post. In it the RIAA is claiming that Mr. Howell committed an illegal act simply by copying the music to his computer even before he illegally distributed it.
The reality here is that this issue is much bigger than the blog posts I've read are making it out to be. The issue isn't the RIAA's greed it is the fact that the United States is becoming an increasingly litigious nation. So someone gets hurt by a defect in a product that the manufacturer could never have foreseen. That person then gets a lawyer who convinces a jury to award the person a million dollar settlement out of pity (as opposed to the facts of the case). Not being able to afford another suit the manufacturer then turns around and changes their user agreement to essentially say "if this product blows up and destroys your whole neighborhood because of a defect that is completely our fault you still can't sue us"
The same issue is at stake in the RIAA's case in that you may not like the RIAA but their product is being stolen and most people don't see it as a big deal. So they in turn have made an unreasonable user agreement saying that it is illegal to even copy your music to the computer at all. I honestly don't think anyone believes the RIAA would prosecute someone who was only storing legally purchased music on their PC and had no plans to distribute it. The RIAA is simply doing what the manufacturer in the above example did and making an unreasonable user agreement to protect their interests.
Saying that its illegal to store music on the PC is simply a way for the RIAA to have an iron clad case against those who are distributing the music illegally.
So Is the RIAA right? Hard to say. When society doesn't take things like theft seriously it invites an over reaction from the person being stolen from. I do think the RIAA's claim is unreasonable on the surface but I'm not sure you can blame them for following the advice of their lawyers. As long as people continue not to equate the stealing of music to the stealing of a physical product I think you'll see more unreasonable claims like this. If you want to stop those claims then your argument is for tort reform not against the RIAA.
On a side note, the idea that the media industry will be "utterly destroyed" by digital technology as put forth by Scott Karp is ridiculous. These issues will exist even if artists self distribute. The RIAA explained simply is just a group of lawyers hired by the music industry to protect their interests. So if the labels disappeared tomorrow people would just start stealing directly from the artists who would then hire a lawyer to stop it and be advised to do the same thing the RIAA is advising the labels to do now. Music will still have to be paid for no matter what happens.
Addendum: A friend pointed out that the Washington Post article quoted above did not mention that Mr. Howell was sharing songs over Kazaa (a real breach of Journalistic ethics imho) so many might think the RIAA was just going after him for backing up his songs. That isn't the case, as can be read here: http://www.homemediamagazine.com/news/html/breaking_article.cfm?article_id=11723