Should you get rid of all your physical media?

Those silver discs seem like a relic of the last century, don’t they? There’s something about them that take you back to the days of Y2K, back to those simple days of dialup modems and tube televisions. Most retailers have taken CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs off their shelves, and think about it — when was the last time you bought one? In fact when was the last time you bought music at all?

Where did your movies and music really come from?

OK, so you’ve been collecting digital media for about 20 years. Let’s put some cards on the table. Some of your songs come from ripped CDs. Some come from the ripped CD collections of friends. There are songs you probably bought from web sites that aren’t even there anymore. Some you bought from your phone and some you … acquired through other means.

Same thing probably applies to your movie collection. You might have some digital copies that came with the physical disc. You might have some you ripped from DVDs you own. Some might have been purchased online. And the rest… came from questionable sources.

Relax, I’m not here to judge you. We’ve all done it. Let’s not even talk about the stuff that you came by in strange ways. Let’s just talk about ripped media and digital copies.

Those annoying terms and conditions

A while ago I wrote a blog post about terms and conditions that still applies today. Pretty much everything you own, at least if it has an electronic component, has some sort of terms and conditions list. Have you ever read it? The iTunes T&C are pretty scary just by themselves. And that doesn’t even cover the media you play through iTunes, just the program itself.

If you look through the terms and conditions for your legally purchased music, you’ll see you can’t actually give it to anyone. If you look at the ones for your digital movies they say that not only can’t you give the copy to anyone, you can’t give the disc to anyone, you can’t sell it and you never owned it. They also generally say that you can’t give the disc away and still keep the digital copy, specifically.

Where fair use comes into play

When it comes to your ripped media, the stuff you actually did pay for but then put on a hard drive or on your cloud server, you’re somewhat protected by the doctrine of “fair use.” Basically this means that everyone agrees you’re not trying to hurt anyone, you’re just trying to access something you’ve paid for, in a convenient way. Even though it is still actually copyright infringement, it’s not prosecuted because what you’re doing is only for you and it doesn’t leave your possession.

However, fair use begins to fall apart if you take a CD, rip it, and give it away. Or if you borrow a CD, rip it, and give it back. That’s where it begins that slow descent into piracy.

How to live life legally

Unfortunately it’s probably impossible to live your digital life strictly to the letter of the law. The hundreds of terms and conditions you agreed to without reading them conflict with each other and they make so little sense that you’d never be able to work through everything.

But if you’re going to try as hard as you can, and you don’t want to delete your ripped copies of things, at the very least you need to keep those physical discs in a box somewhere. I’m not saying that the cops are ever going to bust down your door and demand to see that Swing Out Sister CD you bought in the summer of ’86 and still have deep in your collection of MP3s. I’m just saying that this would be the best way to proceed legally.

As for that DVD of Hamlet 2, (yes that is a real thing) I would delete it off your hard drive and shred it right away. And you know why, if you ever watched it.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.