I’m in the process of converting my rather substantial collection of Objectivist lectures from tape to mp3. Mostly I want to be able to listen to those lectures from my iPod. (Before I got my iPod, I preferred tapes to compact discs, since my portable cd player would lose its place when shut off. With the iPod, I can listen to any lecture, whenever and wherever I please, without ever losing my place. I now regularly listen to lectures on my iPod while driving, gardening, cleaning, riding, biking, running, and so on.) Also, it’s significantly easier to search for a particular discussion by scrolling around in iTunes rather than going forward and back manually through a tape or cd.
This past weekend, I finally got started with the conversion. I’m using a high quality, stereo component tape deck, an excellent external sound card to convert RCA input to USB output, plus a fantastic little program called RIP Vinyl that makes it super-easy to grab just the lectures without any surrounding silence. With this setup, transferring from tape is basically just as easy as ripping from cd. (Unlike with music cds, ripping lecture cds requires manually inputting the information for 4-5 tracks for every hour of recording. So even ripping from cd is something of a pain.) The sound quality from the tapes isn’t quite as pristine as from cds, but it’s very good. (I ran quite a few tests to find the best settings for both the tape deck and the computer before starting.)
I’ve already transferred Darryl Wright’s excellent Advanced Topics in Ethics. I’m presently zipping through Leonard Peikoff’s illuminating The Art of Thinking. Amazingly enough, I expect that I can do my whole collection in a week or two. (I never thought it would be that quick and easy!)
As far as I understand copyright law, it’s perfectly legal for me to transfer intellectual property between media for my own personal use. As with lectures that I’ve ripped from cd, I’ll be careful to act as if I have just one copy of the material, meaning that I won’t lend out the tapes while also listening to the mp3s. However, I do have some questions about the limits of what I can morally and legally do.
- If a friend of mine also owns the tape course, is it legal for me to give him a copy of my mp3 files, so as to save him the time and trouble of converting his own tapes himself?
- Can I charge another person money for such a change of medium, again provided that he already owns the tapes? (Professional tape-to-mp3 services usually charge around $6 to $10 per tape. I wouldn’t charge nearly that much, but some compensation would help fund more purchases from the Ayn Rand Bookstore!) Does it matter that, unlike with the professional services, I’d be giving the other person mp3 files made from my tapes not his tapes?
- Could I go so far as to run a tape-to-mp3 service just for Objectivist lectures? I would only have to transfer the tape lectures to mp3 files once, meaning that my marginal costs would be fairly negligible. Of course, I would have to verify tape ownership, as well as clearly impress upon people that the tapes and mp3 files are not separate goods such that the tapes could be sold while retaining the mp3 files.
Given the explosion of portable mp3 players, combined with the decrease of tape players in vehicles, I suspect that quite a few Objectivists would be eager to acquire mp3 files of lectures they already own on tape. For them, using a specifically Objectivist tape transfer service would be easier than transferring their own tapes themselves and cheaper than using a general transfer service. It would also be both cheaper and easier than buying and ripping new cd versions, if even available. (Many older lectures and courses from the Ayn Rand Bookstore are still only available on tape.)
After I got my iPod, I decided that I simply wouldn’t buy any more lectures on tape, since I suspected that the conversion to mp3 would be a big hassle. However, now that I’ve set up such an easy system of tape conversion, I’ll start buying whatever I please again. (In fact, I’ll save some money that way, since the tapes are always a few dollars cheaper than the cds.) I do wonder how many other people are holding out for certain lectures to appear on cd, so that they can listen to them in their cars, on their iPods, or whatnot. So many people have invested so much money in tape lectures — often thousands of dollars. It’s a shame for them to pay so much in time and/or trouble simply to acquire the very same material in a different format. Perhaps it’s also an opportunity for me.
So would an Objectivist Tape Transfer Service violate any principles of actual or proper copyright law? If a person is allowed to transfer his intellectual property between media at home, shouldn’t he be able to hire a service to do the same? Is the standard distinction between private versus commercial uses of copyrighted material even valid?
Perhaps I am seriously confused: I’ll certainly admit that I don’t have a firm grasp on the proper bounds of intellectual property. In any case, I’d certainly inquire with the Ayn Rand Institute before even seriously considering any such endeavor. In the meantime, I’d be interested in any informed opinions on the matter.