Legality of CD Swap
January 17, 2009 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm a high school teacher. The kids want me to be the adviser for a new music club that swaps mix CDs. Is this legal?

So the kiddos want to to organize a recurring swap of mix CDs (a la the periodic MeFi CD Swaps) and they want me to be their "club adviser." I think it sounds like a fun idea, but obviously the school can't sponsor (and I can't be a part of) something that's illegal.

Virtually all the kids have digital music, which I will assume came from various legal sources: ripped from CD, iTunes, Amazon, etc. What restrictions could be placed on the the rules of the club (no trading digital music files, only mix CDs, no ripping loaned CDs, etc.) that might make this legal?

And for record I'm in the USA, and you are not a lawyer (or at least not mine). If you have any sources you could link to it would be spiffy, because someone (I'm sure) is going to eventually ask me to back this up.
posted by perrce to Law & Government (15 answers total)
 
Illegal as far as the RIAA and most courts are concerned. Absolutely don't do it, or check with school counsel first.
posted by TypographicalError at 4:00 PM on January 17, 2009


Even though I think this is a fun idea, and even though I'm a fan of music swapping and mixes, generally (legality be damned), this might be a bad idea. The legality of mixes is murky (the wikipedia article on mixes provides some explanation). Further, I think that your assumption that the students get their music legally is pretty naive. Plus, all mix CDs include "digital music files" that can be extracted by any computer, so unless you're planning on swapping tapes, that one isn't going to help anything.

But mostly, I wonder what they would do at a club meeting for this. It doesn't seem to be something that necessitates anything more than, maybe, a list of parties interested in trading CDs.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:01 PM on January 17, 2009


You'd definitely have to use the more expensive music cd-r's on which a private levy has been paid:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_copying_levy#United_States
posted by Jahaza at 4:43 PM on January 17, 2009


Jahaza: the use of the "music" CD-Rs, as far as I know, doesn't give you any sort of license to copy music with them, they just generate (small) additional revenue for the music industry. Keep in mind that basically everyone in your club is going to rip the contents of these mix CDs to their computers, making copies of the music for themselves.

Unless you have an unusually supportive/oblivious administration, I'd tell the students involved that you think it sounds fun, there are copyright issues involved (hell, make it a teachable moment even), and that as such, you shouldn't really be involved as a representative of the school. At the same time, if they were to happen to gather 'round during lunch every Thursday and share mix CDs with each other, you certainly wouldn't know anything about that, right?

You could even let them use your classroom periodically to hang out and listen to their favs together. Hell when I was in HS, I would have loved to have a group of friends sit be down and school me every week in a different genre of music.

Is there anything in particular they gain from being an official, school-sanctioned club as opposed to an informal group?

Good for you for being open to this; sounds like your students really enjoy your company.
posted by zachlipton at 4:54 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jahaza: ok, if I actually read, you could argue that using the levied CD-R media for this purpose would count as a private non-commercial use. However, I doubt the school's lawyer would be inclined to say anything but "shut it down" if this actually got to him/her. No school wants to walk into the mess that is music copyrights if they don't have to.
posted by zachlipton at 4:57 PM on January 17, 2009


Not to spoil the fun; but this isn't legal in anyway -- and you probably don't want your name attached.

Let the kids have their fun on their own time; and warn them that if they are too loud about it; it WILL get shutdown. Buying taxed media doesn't give you any legal leg to stand on.
posted by SirStan at 5:28 PM on January 17, 2009


Don't do this. If the kids do it on their own, good for them, but they shouldn't try to form a school-sponsored group for it.
posted by PueExMachina at 5:39 PM on January 17, 2009


Or do it, but in a legal way as a forum for teaching the kids about fair use, copyright and intellectual property law.

The kids would hate it and label you as a tool for life, but it's the only responsible way to what they're asking.
posted by Ookseer at 5:57 PM on January 17, 2009


Yeah, that's what I figured. I was hoping that there was some sort of fair use for a derivative work angle that could be worked. Oh well. Guess I'll tell them to keep the school out of it.
posted by perrce at 6:19 PM on January 17, 2009


You could even let them use your classroom periodically to hang out and listen to their favs together. Hell when I was in HS, I would have loved to have a group of friends sit be down and school me every week in a different genre of music.

This.

Have it be a "music-sharing" club, wherein the music is shared by someone bringing in a few CDs, talks about the genre(s), what they like about it, etc., and then plays their favorite cuts. If someone happens to...borrow some of those CDs from the presenter, outside of club meetings, well, you wouldn't know anything about that, right?

And definitely turn the copyright thing into a teachable moment!
posted by rtha at 6:59 PM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


nope, don't do it. Unless it is sanctioned in writing by the administration, which, I doubt they will do...
posted by HuronBob at 8:31 PM on January 17, 2009


What rtha said. The meetings: all about the chance to listen to music and hear it described by fans. The after hours: kids do what kids have always done, teachers go home and watch some hulu.
posted by zpousman at 8:34 PM on January 17, 2009


There's more than one way to kill the beast. It's a great chance to teach the difference between a legal rule (one that has legal consequences, like jail) versus moral rule (where the culture has essentially adopted it as being ubiquitous). You can't support officially, no - not without subjecting yourself to a serious amount of liability. UNofficially, of course, there are ways of helping or making teachable moments. Consider the bigger purposes - and get them to do the same - getting music heard by a larger group of people has rarely had a better opportunity than the ones offered by today's technology. Ask them if they were a musician, would they want their music copyable by anyone with a computer and half a brain? If you wanted to make a living by being a musician, but that living were being thwarted by people stealing their property, what would your reaction be? Artists rarely make the money people think they do - educate your students on that. Best of luck :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 6:29 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's more than one way to kill the beast. It's a great chance to teach the difference between a legal rule (one that has legal consequences, like jail) versus moral rule (where the culture has essentially adopted it as being ubiquitous). You can't support officially, no - not without subjecting yourself to a serious amount of liability. UNofficially, of course, there are ways of helping or making teachable moments. Consider the bigger purposes - and get them to do the same - getting music heard by a larger group of people has rarely had a better opportunity than the ones offered by today's technology. Ask them if they were a musician, would they want their music copyable by anyone with a computer and half a brain? If you wanted to make a living by being a musician, but that living were being thwarted by people stealing their property, what would your reaction be? Artists rarely make the money people think they do - educate your students on that. Best of luck :)

Agree it's a good teaching situation. If I understand your comment, you are saying to get the students to consider the harm to the musicians from their activity, separate from the legal harm they might incur themselves, right? Excellent idea, as well as explaining the difference between medium and content, the idea behind intellectual property, etc.

Or are you saying that they should convince themselves that their music sharing is justified because the artists gain a bigger audience? I hope not- while it might be true that they gain a bigger audience, that's not the point. The point is, people who do work have the right to control the fruits of their labor. Even if they are being shortsighted, it's not up to us to decide what's in their best interest. Especially when that decision is intertwined with our desire to get their work for free.

Might be worthwhile to assign each interested student the task of contacting the artist and asking what their thoughts on the matter are.

(And in the spirit of education, as others said, a good compromise would be to have some critical listening sessions. Listen to the music, discuss it, and then the students can purchase the music if they choose. Depending on the depth of your music instruction goals, things like key, melody, song construction, rhythm and whatnot can be discussed.)
posted by gjc at 10:52 AM on January 18, 2009


I'm going to go counter to most of the advice that's been given and say that you should go ahead with this group. There are a few reasons for this:

1) my memory from my days of making cassette mix tapes is that this was found to be legal. A quick Google search gives me nothing to link to that proves this but I think that the idea was that as long as you're not copying entire albums to swap but creating new works of a single song from here, a single song from there, it's within fair dealing provisions. (I'm in Canada so that may be part of this - we've always been more lenient than the States in this area.)

2) the odds of being caught, even if it is illegal, are fairly low as long as you keep the group mostly quiet. (Has your school ever used images of famous cartoon characters in their newsletter? In a mural on the school wall? If so, did they get a notice from Warner Brothers or whoever?)

3) the opportunity to teach kids about not just copyright but fair use. IF they obtained the music legally, they have the right to share it in a limited form.

4) the opportunity to teach kids about the difference between legal and moral obligations. As was said above, if the courts rule mix tapes illegal (arguable) but everyone in society does it, is it wrong? On what grounds?

5) Also an opportunity to discuss *why* copyright exists in the form that it does - the big business interests (search for "Disney" and "copyright" for prime examples) that help guide copyright policy so people own the rights to their work for decades after they die.

6) the implications of technology in all of this. Is making a digital copy of a digital file so that there are now two exact copies "stealing".

7) there's a certain amount of valuable cachet to be gained to be seen as a "cool" (for lack of a better term) teacher who would go for something like this. It's that fine line that many teachers (and all parents) must walk - you want to be seen as understanding and open while still remaining an authority figure.

8) finally, a chance to provide a lesson that's rarely given in schools IMHO. If something is controversial, it's not always better to err on the side of a cautious/conservative/safe approach (ie. this may be illegal or we may get caught or in trouble so we just won't do it!)

On that point, if you want to be safe (but not too safe), as others have said - start the group. Discuss the topics I listed and other related ones. Then, when the meeting is over, you leave the room and whatever after-hours discussion (and activity) occurs is out of your hands. Not to get too overblown but then you also teach them a valuable lesson, not just about music, not just about copyright but about the importance of civil disobedience as well.
posted by Jaybo at 6:00 AM on February 8, 2009


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