Is it moral to make a backup copy of a CD after you've already lost the original?

The law allows you to make archive copies of copyrighted works, to protect against theft, damage, and so on. You could make copies of your CDs and stick them in a safe deposit box, and if one of the originals gets lost, just use the backup instead.

But what if you lacked the cash, the equipment, or even the foresight to make copies in advance? Are you morally justified in making a (possibly illegal) copy after the theft or damage has already taken place?

On one hand, the backup you make after the fact is indistinguishable from the one you made before the fact; the only difference is timing. In both cases, you paid for the original, and now you have a backup but no original.

On the other hand, the exact nature of what you’re getting when you buy a copyrighted item is unclear. In some situations, it seems you’re getting a license to use the material, regardless of the physical form; in others, it seems you’re buying that specific packaged copy of the material, and you should expect no recourse if it gets ruined. Perhaps this is the latter.

Hypothetical #1

You buy a CD at a record store just before closing time. On the walk home, someone rushes past on the sidewalk and steals your shopping bag. Should you…

a) go back the next day and buy another copy
b) decide you just weren’t meant to have that CD and live without it
c) get a copy from a friend who owns the CD
d) download the songs from Kazaa?

Hypothetical #2

You buy a movie, and one day you can’t find it. You turn your house inside out, but the tape/DVD is nowhere to be found - perhaps it’s been stolen, perhaps you left it somewhere, who knows. You have given up looking for it. Should you…

a) buy another copy
b) decide you weren’t meant to have it
c) copy a friend’s tape/DVD
d) rent it and copy it?

I’m not sure if this belongs in GD or IMHO, but copyright has been hotly debated in the past. Mods, please move the thread if this is the wrong forum.

  1. a or b.
  2. a or b.

Um, given the SDMB’s track record on this kind of thread, it’s kind of a no-brainer, ain’t it? :confused:

I mean, what do you expect us to say? “Yeah, sure, go out and make a copy…”? Not likely.

I was hoping for something a little meatier… if it’s immoral to make a copy after losing the original, is that because someone’s losing out on the deal–making a “retro-backup” deprives the copyright holder of the extra profit from buying a second copy[sup]*[/sup]–or simply because you had your chance to make a backup and you missed it?

[sup]*[/sup] Isn’t the same true of a backup made in advance?

One difference between my hypotheticals is that in the first, there was never a chance to make a backup at all - the original was stolen before you got home. A similar situation would be if you’re unable to make a copy before losing the original, perhaps because you can’t afford a DVD burner at the time. (From there, one could discuss whether poor people are equally as entitled to personal backups of their copyrighted works as those who can afford CD burners, DVD burners, and whatnot.)

IMO, the retro-backup is moral for two reasons:

  1. From the copyright holder’s point of view, it’s the same as a personal backup made in advance.

  2. Media of all types is often implicitly treated as ‘licensed’ rather than ‘purchased’, which normally means you don’t have 100% control over what you can do with it - but another of the most important differences is that a license is independent of any physical object. You have the right to space-shift or format-shift your songs, such as by uploading them into a portable MP3 player, and you have the right to make backups, to ensure that you can actually make use of the license. You have those rights whether you choose to exercise them or not; the retro-backup is simply a way to exercise them at a later time, when you don’t have the original physical media.

In most cases you describe it would be perfectly ethical to make a copy of a friend’s CD/DVD. Downloading the material probably not, if the software you’re using to do it is illegal and you aren’t 100% sure the material you’re downloading is exactly the same material you bought… a lot of things get re-released with different tracks, remastering, editing, etc.

Since this is hypthetical, we can assume you are being honest and actually bought the CD/DVD. Doesn’t really matter if you bought it new or used.

Damaging the media doesn’t change the fact that you paid for permission to own a copy of the copyrighted material on the media. If the technology and means are available to make a copy, then that is perfectly ethical to do so.

If the media is stolen, then whoever ends up listening to the copyrighted material on that media is the copyright violator. If I am the original owner of the disc, it’s not my problem… I paid for my copy and didn’t sell my permission to own a copy of the copyrighted material to anybody else. So it still belongs to me!

If the media is lost… well, there’s something to be said for taking care of your belongings. Don’t know if I’d give this one a pass.


The thing is, Mr2001, once you lose it, you no longer own it.

It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. What if I said, “oh, I remember owning that album when I was a little kid, so now it’s ok if I get a copy off the internet for free.”?

What if you sell your CD used to someone else, and then download the songs, because you “forgot” to back it up before you sold it?

The answer in both of those cases is no, as is the answer to your example.

You only reserve the right to make a copy of things you own. Whether you lose it, sell it, or whatever else, you lose the right to legally make a copy.

Sure I do. It still exists somewhere, right? Who else could possibly own it but me?

Also, losing the original CD doesn’t mean you’ve lost the license. The license is independent of the physical medium - if I make a backup copy of my original (whether it’s a CD, cassette, or MP3), and lose the original, I still have every right to listen to my backup. I paid for the music, not the disc.

Indeed, what if? If you can prove that you’ve already paid for it, why shouldn’t you be able to listen to it years later?

You aren’t supposed to keep your backups when you sell the originals… what you describe is illegal (and IMO immoral) whether you make the copy before or after.

Okay, then, I have a question. Let’s say I’m a college student with a large CD collection. To avoid a lot of hassle, I leave my CDs at home and make copies to take with me to school (for purposes of this situation, let’s assume the college is several hours away from home.) I don’t physically have the original CDs with me, so are the copies legal?

I disagree. Unlike traditional material gadgets, these items you buy are actually intangible. When you buy the car, you buy the ownership of the car. But when you buy a CD, what you are actually buying is the ownership of those songs on the CD, the CD is merely a medium. When you lose the CD, you lose the medium, not the ownership to those songs on said CD.

I don’t see how this is the same as losing the CD. In this case, you are selling the ownership of those songs on the CD, clearly different from losing the CD.

Hm… I guess I disagree with y’all…

so would you say the publisher of the CD is somehow under an obligation to provide you with a new CD free (or maybe at cost) if you lose/break yours? It seems to me that at least currently the medium is not so removed from the actual data as you seem to suggest.

As there is no way one could prove ownership to those songs without having the CD in one’s possesion, I’d still say that you wouldn’t have a moral leg to stand on. I think the CD/casette/LP/8-trac/whatever is the “ticket,” if you will, that gives you the right to those songs. Without it, there’s no way to show that you have ownership rights.

First, a tiny point: When you make a back up copy, you use the back up, and archive the original. It just doesn’t make sense to do it the other way.

Anyway, if you paid, you paid. Stolen stuff still belongs to the original owner. Lost stuff belongs to the original owner. Sold stuff belongs to the new owner, and no longer belongs to the original owner.

So, you make a copy of a CD that you own, and use it in place of the original. That is legal, as long as you don’t make copies for other people, or sell them. If the original is now in the hands of another person, who stole it from you, he is a criminal. He is no more, or less a criminal because of your backup, or because of the chronology of your backup process. If you knew him, and let him “steal” your CD, you are a co-conspirator in petty fraud, and we are not talking about theft at all.

Copying a CD that is in any way dissimilar in informational content, as the one you own is not the same. If you didn’t buy the remix, you don’t own it. If you bought every single new album the band ever put out, you don’t own the greatest hits album, unless you bought that one, too.

If you own the vinyl analog recording, you don’t own the digital re-recording. If you own the tape, you don’t own the DVD. If you sell your collection, you sell the right to have backups to it. If you sell, or keep the backups, you have committed a crime. (NOTE: If your house burns down, and you have only the backups left, you still have the right to copy them, for your own archival use. But you don’t have the right to sell any of them. You have only the right to resell the originals.)

I am not a lawyer. But I have been studying this “fair use doctrine” a whole lot, lately. Making a copy for your own use is legal if you bought the intellectual property yourself. How you copy it is not germane to the legal question. If you lie about it, it’s a lie. But if you are being honest, the means of copying does not make you a criminal.

Selling copies is not legal. As far as I can tell if you sell your CD collection, with a copy of each one, if you charge the other guy for the copies, it is strictly speaking, a violation of the copyright laws. You don’t get the right to make copies for other people, only for your own use. After you sell the originals, you have to destroy the copies.


Good point… maybe I withdraw what I said earlier… but, I’ve still got a problem. Let’s say, as you suggest, your house burns down and all your possesions go with it. Do you really then have a right to acquire copies of all the music you owned that was lost?

Here’s part of why I’m confused. Let’s say I insure my CD collection. It’s pretty big, and would probably cost a few thousand dollars if I were to replace it with CDs. So, my house burns down, and I get x dollars for my melted CDs from my homeowner’s insurance.

If I truly own the rights to the music that I’ve bought, then what’s the value in insuring my CDs? They should have no value at all, aside from the cost of the materials. And yet, that’s not the case in this scenario. What gives? Maybe it’s just a disconnect between how different groups view intellectual property and the media on which it’s kept.

When you buy a CD you’re getting media and permission to own a copy of the copyrighted material on the media. Just because the media melts doesn’t mean your permission to own a copy of the copyrighted material melts with it. If your friends own some (or all) of the CDs you lost, it’s ethical to make yourself copies.

If you are challenged by the copyright holder to prove you have permission to own all those copied CDs, however, you could find yourself in hot water. Hope you kept your receipts and they weren’t lost in the fire!

An honest person could lose 500 CDs in a fire, make copies of all 500 from friends’ collections and although it would be 100% ethical, they would be in great legal danger if they were unable to prove somehow that they had paid for those 500 CDs at some point. No record company is going to take your word for it… they assume their customers are criminals from the get go.

As for the insurance money situation, there’s no law saying that you are required to use insurance money for any particular purpose after you get it. If I want to use it replace the physical media I lost, I can. If I just want to burn copies of everything I lost and spend the difference on a vacation, that’s my decision.

Of course, once the original media is destroyed I lose the ethical right to transfer ownership of my permission to own a copy of the copyrighted material. Is that somewhat arbitrary? Yeah. But then, so is copyright law… it’s not a natural right, after all.


If you have, and use copies to replace your CD collection, then the actual casualty loss you have incurred is not the replacement cost of your originals, but rather the potential resale value of your originals, since that is what you have actually lost. Your cost in replacement (effort and media) to replace your archives is also an allowable casualty loss. The fact is that the difference is likely to be trivial, unless you have a very large and hard to replace CD collection. If you have a very large collection of rare originals, you better have a list, and a value for them, to make your claim.

Of course, this assumes you copied all the artwork that came with your originals. Liner notes and such have collectible value. That too is part of your loss. In that respect, your collection has been a total loss, since the collectible value of digital copies is nil. It ends up depending on just what the value of your collection is, to you, and what you insured it for.

If you insured a twenty thousand CD collection of original CD’s because of their value as collectible art, then you have replacement value of the entire collection as a loss. But you also had that as a value for insurance purposes, and were paying premiums for it all along. Insurance is trickier than copyrights.



So in spite of the fact that the law says you are entitled to a backup copy of a work you have PAID FOR, you say that a person is required to pay for it twice in order to have the value they’ve already PURCHASED?

How does that work?

To the OP, whether it’s legal or not (since the law is getting cranked down tighter all the time), I believe it is entirely moral to make a copy, since you already paid for it, thereby compensating both the creator and the publisher.

The law allows you fair use.

In Hypothetical #1 and #2, you lost possesion of a legally bought CD. copying it from outside sources does not make it right. You violated fair use because it is not fair to assume that producers of the CD should be responsible for protecting your possessions. dems the breaks, bud.

You are entitled to fair use of that particular item that you bought and had possession of. So long as you make “fair use” of it and not profit from it, then its legal. Insurance entitles you to buy back this entitlement in the event of an insured loss. Once you lose possesion of the particular item, you have no legal right to a similar item that you have no license with.

If you make a backup copy, lose the original in a fire, and then make a backup copy of the backup, this is still within the realm of fair use.

If you make a backup copy, and an extra one for a friend, that is not fair use whether or not money exchanged hands because you are depriving the producers of potential income.

OK, here’s another hypothetical:

If my friend and I buy a CD and then break it in half and get a second copy of the receipt, do we both own half of it or do we each own the whole thing?

If we own half, what are we legally allowed to possess? If we each own the whole thing, then can we each make a copy, even though we only paid for half?

And yet another hypothetical:

If you paid for the material and made a copy, is that copy then your property? It can’t be differentiated from the original material, so are you permitted to sell it as you would the original?

I think that the actual medium isn’t as divorced from the conent as some of you think it is.


Is it moral to price-fix CDs? Well, the music and recording industry was recently found guilty of just that. So not only have they stolen money from you,
but now adding insult to injury you have to get your money stolen again to get something that you already paid for.


They weren’t found guilty. They just settled the case. A fine distinction, yes, but they admitted no wrongdoing and were not proven to have done anything wrong.

Besides, this is kinda like the cigarette oligarchy. It would make no sense for them to undercut each other, so a common price may have been settled on in fact, if not in agreement. It takes a hell of a smoking gun to prove conspiracy, and I didn’t see anything that proved it to me.

Also, if you feel cheated, imagine how the musicians feel when people copy their stuff without permission.

I don’t know whether the situation described in the OP is legal or not, though I would suspect the average media exec would say no. Then agains, the average media exec thinks you’re in breach of contract if you pee during a commercial break, so I tend to ignore their opinions.

Morally speaking, though, I see no problems with making a backup copy of a form of media, regardless of the timing, provided you did, at some point, pay for the item in question. The whole point of paying for a music CD is to compensate the artist for your listening to his music. As has been mentioned, you’re not really buying a physical object, so much as you’re buying the right to experience the works of others at your convenience. As far as I’m concerned, I see no ethical problem with creating 500 copies of a CD, and wallpapering your room with them.

I also don’t see an ethical problem with downloading music off the internet, provided you are downloading a copy of the same music you already own. Is there really an ethical difference between taking a CD you own, ripping a track off it, and converting it to mp3 format, versus just downloading the same song to begin with? I don’t see how. Nobody’s gaining or losing any money out of the deal, except the person doing the downloading, who may be gaining some time. Is it illegal? Probably, but given the mentality of the record industry, that’s not saying much. Is it moral? Seems it to me.

Ok, I’ve got a question of a similar nature. What if instead of audio, the media in play is video, such as music videos played on MTV. Is it moral to record these music videos off the tv and then transfer them to disk for future viewing pleasure?

How does the moral stance change if yourself wasn’t the one recording the video but someone else did? Would it be moral to watch the borrowed video even though you didn’t watch it when it was on MTV or didn’t push the record button, etc?