Reader Question: What to do with digitized CDs and DVDs

Recently, reader Sarah asked us this:

I don’t know if it’s still true, but it certainly was the law in the USA that if you own a music CD and rip it to create mp3 files (or similar), you had to continue to physically possess the CDs from which you did the ripping, otherwise it was considered illegal use. Perhaps someone can update me on that?

That’s a great question – and yes, it still is the law. Copyright law protects the work of artists. If you make unauthorized copies, you are taking the artists’ works without providing payment. This type of theft is called piracy. You may have seen the FBI anti-piracy warning shield on movies you have watched. Although audio recordings may not have a warning label, they are still subject to the same copyright laws. Thanks to the internet, piracy is a world-wide problem and law enforcement agencies in many countries are working together to protect intellectual property.

The Recording Industry Association of America® (RIAA) has a great summary of the different actions that are considered music piracy but they also applies to movies. Piracy can include uploading and downloading unauthorized versions of copyrighted music/movies from peer-to-peer networks as well as ripping CDs/DVDs to your own computer and selling the originals at a garage sale.

What does this mean for uncluttering and organizing if you can’t dispose of the original CDs/DVDs once you’ve converted them to a space-saving digital format?

First of all, you can sell or give away the original CD/DVD, but only as long as you no longer have any copies of the music/movies in any format. Once our children were older, we donated all of the DVDs and CDs that they were no longer interested in. It didn’t take long after that (mere minutes, in fact) for me to delete every digital copy as well. Bye-bye Barney and Friends!

Go through your collection. Are there any movies you will no longer watch or any music you won’t listen to anymore? Delete the digital copies and let the originals go.

DVDs and CDs tend to take up space because of their bulky, and rather breakable “jewel” cases. You could take the disks out of their case and put them into classy storage albums. This type of album also has storage for lyrics sheets or movie notes. It will take up much less space on shelving and allow your disks to be easily accessed whenever you need them.

After we downloaded our music onto our computer, we stored our entire CD collection in “cake boxes,” the spindle-type containers in which you can buy a stack of computer CDs. These are easily stored in the back of the drawer of our filing cabinet. The disadvantages of storing CDs in cake boxes include difficulty finding and accessing a CD if you need it again and lack of storage for movie notes or lyric sheets.CD storage box

Storage boxes like this one, can hold over 300 CDs/DVDs. The advantage of the storage box is that you can store movie notes or lyric sheets with the disks. It’s a good idea to put disks in sleeves to protect them — just in case the box gets tipped over onto the floor. Accidents can happen.

Regardless of how you organize your CDs/DVDs, you should also create an inventory and store it separately from the collection. You may wish to take photos of the disks and original packaging and include a copy of the sales slip. This information would be useful if your collection was ever damaged or stolen.

6 Comments for “Reader Question: What to do with digitized CDs and DVDs”

  1. posted by TV James on

    After I ripped them, I threw all our CDs into a couple of large ziplock bags and threw them into a storage bin and tossed/donated the jewel cases Since I regularly back up the primary computer where the MP3s are stored, I figure the only way I need the CDs is if the RIAA comes knocking.

  2. posted by NorCal music on

    PLEASE!! DON’T FORGET TO RECYCLE, folks – many big box electronic stores, & other recycling places as well, take to recycle your CDs, cases, tapes, cables & chargers. There is no real “away” when we throw things away.

  3. posted by Jenny on

    I have my CDs in sleeves in acid free boxes. Also, as technology changes you can dig out your favorites and re-rip them in a new format/higher bitrate. I first started digitizing my music in 2001/2002 when I used to make mixes of my favorite songs on a re-writable CD. Hard drives were a lot smaller then so you tended to use a low bit rate to keep the size down. I was re-listening to some stuff and couldn’t figure out why it sounded like crap. Then I looked at it on my computer and it had been ripped at the lowest bit rate. After re-ripping it sounded a lot better.

  4. posted by SkiptheBS on

    I digitized to get rid of allergenic dustcatchers and to maximize limited space. If Big Government wants to spend megabucks prosecuting me and then pay a bureaucratic premium price for my upkeep and medical care by sending me to prison, bring ’em on.

  5. posted by MJ Ray on

    “This type of theft is called piracy” – no, only by shills of Big Music. It’s neither theft (no one is deprived of the original) nor piracy (no ships are attacked) but copyright infringement. Please don’t disrespect sailors by calling this banned copying by the wrong name.

  6. posted by Bruce on

    I run estate sales, and the question comes up from clients all the time.

    In point of fact, U.S. Copyright law is not entirely settled in the matter; no one seems to believe it will ever be settled, but so far, you are free to do as you please with a single copy of legally produced CDs that you buy for your own use.

    What IS clear, and the RIAA has stated, is that they support individuals copying CDs for their own personal use. This is also supported under a separate doctrine called fair use. So that’s clear : the RIAA and the music industry strongly supports the consumer ripping CDs to listen to on their computers, iPods, etc. They have said they WANT you to do that.

    The question then turns to the muddier issue when a CD is resold. Let’s be very clear : there is no clarity here in the U.S.

    If you own a lawfully made CD, then you are entitled to resell it anywhere any time, under the first sale doctrine, Section 109 of the Copyright Act. Selling or reselling a CD does not infringe copyright, and in fact has no legal ramifications.

    Now let’s put them together.

    We have two separate events, both considered lawful under fair use, U.S. Copyright law, by the RIAA, copyright holders, and first sale doctrine : (1) ripping a copy of a lawfully made CD to your computer, and (2) selling a lawfully made CD that you own.

    Copyright law does NOT support the bizarre idea that these two, separate, clearly lawful events can somehow magically come together — days, months, years, or decades later — to make one or the other illegal.

    Last year, when you sold your Doobie Brothers albums at your garage estate sale, did somebody come after you because you made a copy on cassette in 1979? Don’t laugh, it’s the same thing. And the Nakamichi Dragon and other audiophile cassette recorders were specifically tasked to make spectacular copies of your record collection. And no, no one has ever figured out if there should or should not be a “copyright tax / royalty tax” on cassettes or blank CDs or DVDs or disk drives or memory chips, or the machines that use them, and/or how such a scheme would work fairly.

    So unless or until there is a change to the Copyright law, feel free to sell off your CD collection, whether you have ripped it to your computer or not. Some day, long after physical distribution of music is dead and gone, Congress may address the paradox of two completely legal copyright law supported activities magically combining to make one (or the other) illegal. Or not: there is a whole species of similar copyright issues that will probably forever remain unresolved. Consumers have had high quality recording equipment since the 1950’s and nobody’s even tried to address it yet.

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