Greg Helledy on 31 Jul 2009 15:03:24 -0700

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[PLUG] OT: If I can Record a TV Program off-the-air, Can I record a Streaming Internet Radio Program?

> I ask this question from 2 vantage points:  1) Legal; and 2) Moral
> The supreme court has famously ruled that it is perfectly legal to record TV 
> and radio broadcast off the air (and I presume, off cable).  This strikes me as 
> being both legally sound, and morally defensible.   I pay for cable service 
> and am forced to watch commercials as payment for the pleasure of listening to 
> and recording the shows.
> But how about for a streaming music service that states in their accompanying 
> documentation that it is not legal to record the stream (due to licensing 
> issues), even though you pay for the privilege of listening to the stream?
> I don't know the law in this case, but it strikes me as morally acceptable to 
> record the stream, especially as I will pay for the stream listening rights.  
> Further, the situation seems so analogous to over-the-air recording as to be 
> silly to even differentiate it.
> But, I frankly don't feel entirely comfortable with this position and would 
> welcome the opinions of other rampant moralizers.
> BTW, I don't feel any strong moral obligation to comply with an immoral or 
> unjust law, although I do tend to minimize the likelihood that something bad 
> will happen to me if I do so.  Or in other words, I'm all for Civil 
> Disobedience, but I'm a coward and don't want to spend the night in j

The legal vantage point has to be broken down into two separate parts, 
criminal and civil.

When we ask whether something is "legal", what we're usually really 
asking is whether you can be prosecuted under criminal law for it.  I'm 
quite certain that you cannot be prosecuted for recording streaming 
media content to your hard drive.  It would be less clear if you were 
breaking encryption to do so, in which case you might fall afoul of the 

 From the civil side, it sounds like you might be violating the 
streaming media company's TOS.  Does it spell out any penalties for 
doing so?  I would imagine that they'd be limited to termination of your 
service, but I suppose you could inquire further.

As someone else pointed out, as a practical matter, I can't imagine how 
anyone would find out that you are recording media content while you're 

Now we come to the second point, the moral one.  I record music from 
stations on Shoutcast, and feel that this is no different from recording 
over-the-air broadcasts.  I'm not selling or even giving these 
recordings to anyone, so I don't feel that my having them harms the 
content creators in any way.  As with over-the-air broadcasts, this 
music is often a bit degraded with talk-overs at the beginning or end. 
So morally it may not be the same as a pay music service where 
presumably you're getting 100% of the song instead of 98%.  Thoughts?

Going back to the legal perspective, the question is also complicated by 
the fact that some of the stations are not located in the US.  I don't 
know how the broadcast-recording ruling addresses the case where the 
recorder is in a different country from the broadcaster.


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