The Real Trouble With The Emily White NPR Blog Post

On 6/16/2012 NPR’s All songs Considered blog posted an article by NPR intern Emily White where the author discusses her desire and associated reasoning for “one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices.” Oh, she also chronicles thousands of personal instances of music piracy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all hell broke loose and folks have been peeling off into pro and con camps ever since (as of now, the latter outweighs the former).

find itThe vast majority of feedback has focused on the hot button issues of music piracy, free culture philosophy, and loads of venom directed toward White and NPR for what has been described as callous and irresponsible actions. All of these are worthwhile topics and will likely be examined for quite some time, but not here.

Instead, one aspect in Ms. White’s article that is getting overlooked amidst the heated exchanges is one which carries the greatest potential for immediate action. Apparently, Ms. White obtained a great deal of her pirated music from the music library at WVAU, the American University radio station where she has been working as a student DJ.

During my first semester at college, my music library more than tripled. I spent hours sitting on the floor of my college radio station, ripping music onto my laptop. The walls were lined with hundreds of albums sent by promo companies and labels to our station over the years.

This admission was simply stunning and although my knowledge about radio stations and use of music from their libraries is not all-inclusive, common sense dictated that was likely a big no-no. So in order to find out how things work at radio stations and what sort of responsibilities are involved, I went to the source and asked the following questions:

  • What sort of responsibilities do radio stations have for preventing illegal copying?
  • Are there employee orientation sessions to discuss what is and isn’t illegal, is the station liable, etc?


[sws_pullquote_right]…many of the recordings in our library are sent to us for no charge by record companies …and allowing staff to make copies of those recordings for personal use wouldn’t be right. [/sws_pullquote_right] Before I get into the issue of a radio station allowing staff to rip CD’s for personal use, I should point out that WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network adhere scrupulously to all rights issues relating to recordings, published music and the rights of musicians. For example, when we put together compilations of music from commercial recordings to use as pledge drive premiums, we work closely with whatever labels are involved; we’re careful to check with publishers in cases where royalties need to be paid; when we video/audio stream one of our Immersion Day programs we obtain rights to any recordings that require it; and we always check with the Chicago Federation of Musicians whenever we have a question about the proper fee to pay members of their union.

Now, with regard to the question at hand, while WFMT doesn’t have a written policy about copying recordings for private use, I highly doubt that has happened to any significant degree. I’ve certainly never observed anyone on our staff doing it. But now that the issue has gained such prominence because of the blog by the NPR intern, we’ll put such a policy in place: many of the recordings in our library are sent to us for no charge by record companies for the sole purpose of broadcasting on our airwaves and allowing staff to make copies of those recordings for personal use wouldn’t be right.


I checked in with’s FCC attorney, Melodie Virtue, and our own music director, John Pitman for a reaction to the Emily White NPR blog you cited. I received this information, below. Additionally, we are altering our new employee orientation policy accordingly. Good topic and great discussion.

Note: Jack Allen is also co-author of Inside The Art’s Scanning The Dial blog on classical music in broadcasting.


If a station received promotional CDs and gives the physical copy of the CD away, that’s ok. That was the subject in the case of UMG v. Augusto in the 9th Circuit that came out in February of 2011. Augusto was re-selling promo CDs on e-Bay, and UMG was arguing they owned the CDs and the radio stations only had a license to use the CDs. The court disagreed and said the CDs were a gift and that the doctrine of first sale applied because ownership of the physical copy had transferred.

Thus, the recipient of the CDs from UMG could do want they wanted with that physical copy, just like anyone who buys a CD or a book can sell it to someone else.

Transferring the sound recording on the CD to another medium like a laptop is different. That is a reproduction of the copyrighted work that is within the exclusive control of the copyright owner. In contrast, the Augusto case did not involve copying – merely transferring the same physical copy from one owner to another.

[sws_pullquote_right]To the extent that the station facilitates or turns a blind eye toward unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted works, the station could be liable for contributory infringement. [/sws_pullquote_right] To the extent that the station facilitates or turns a blind eye toward unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted works, the station could be liable for contributory infringement. That’s how Grokster and Napster and all those early file sharing services got into trouble – they enabled and facilitated the infringement.

Copyright piracy is a criminal office. Not only are there significant monetary damages (up to $150,000 in statutory damages for willful infringement per copy), in severe cases the infringer could go to jail/prison for up to 10 years.

Training new hires on copyright infringement would be a factor in your defense if an employee or volunteer copies your library without your consent. Of course, you need to enforce the policy, too.


…this does not mean that I condone everything that Ms White admits to doing.  When she says that she ripped thousands of songs from the station library, well, that’s stealing.  She wasn’t paying for a service like Kazaa; she took material sent to the radio station on the agreement that the station would broadcast it to its listeners.  Every “promotional copy” stipulates that no copying is to take place.  That applies to Ms. White as it does to you and me.


Given the feedback from the above authorities above, it appears that WVAU may have a serious issue on its hands regarding Ms. White’s activities as described in her NPR blog post. Currently, Ms. White is listed as a WVAU Music Director and has a DJ page with a description of her radio program.

In order to discover more about how American University is dealing with these issues, I contacted American University to identify an administrator and/or faculty member responsible for overseeing the student radio station. According to the university, the person overseeing student activities at WVAU is Adjunct Professorial Lecturer Adell Crowe, who also serves as Coordinator for Student Media Communications.

I wrote to Ms. Crowe asking if there is any sort of orientation program for new student DJs that addresses issues of legal and ethical use of station recordings. Likewise, I asked Ms. Crowe if there are any measures in place to prevent illegal copying and whether Ms. White will be allowed to continue in any capacity with WVAU.

According to American University, Ms. Crowe is out of the office until 7/2/2012 but any reply and/or statement she provides will be published in a follow-up article.


It’s doubtful that the online debate over the future of music distribution will subside anytime soon nor will the pro/con discussions of Ms. White’s blog post, but that doesn’t mean folks aren’t paying attention to less subjective issues. For instance, it is difficult to discount the herculean efforts by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) that included vigorous pursuit of individuals and organizations accused of music piracy and illegal file sharing by means of lawsuits.

At this time, it is unknown if the RIAA or any of its individual members will attempt to exercise legal action against WVAU or any specific parties related in this situation is unknown.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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0 thoughts on “The Real Trouble With The Emily White NPR Blog Post

  1. Excellent job, Drew, in pointing to this particularly self-indicting and highly alarming statement (among the many Ms. White made) and contacting these professionals for their opinions. I will be fascinated to read what the representatives of WVAU have to say. I’m guessing that their attorney bills have suddenly gone way up this month.

    • Thanks Alex, I’m also curious where NPR’s potential liability falls here. At present, I don’t know enough about their internal employment policy regarding interns to offer up much more than questions. Are they responsible for legal fees related to defending potential claims for content authored by an intern? Is the intern on his/her own? What sort of editorial procedures are in place to spot and address potential liability issues? Does NPR’s intern and new employee orientation procedures cover liability with regard to content created and published at their website? Etc.

      I haven’t been through 100% of NPR’s Editorial Guidelines (and related content) but I haven’t run across anything yet which answers those questions.

  2. Here is what I find interesting about the issue: everyone, including Ms. White, seems to realize that downloading music for which one has not paid is illegal. The very term “pirating” indicates that people who engage it in are aware that it’s a violation of the law.

    There does not seem to be the same level of awareness of the law as it applies to ripping music from CDs which one does not own. I’m assuming that was why Drew decided to consult with several people who were able to offer their insights. Those whom he consulted all agree that this behavior violates the law, and several went on to say that they were going to implement new policies or orientations that would educate future employees or interns about the law.

    I doubt that anyone would find it necessary to inform interns or employees that it’s illegal to download pirated music, yet they do feel it’s necessary to inform them that it’s illegal to copy music from a CD that the user does not own. I think that says a lot about the general level of awareness of copyright laws.

    I believe that this is an important point, because it *is* legal for a consumer to rip music from a CD which he or she has purchased, for his or her personal use. Every computer that is sold with an optical drive and software similar to iTunes encourages users to engage in this behavior.

    It’s a short step from ripping music to one’s own computer, to allowing a friend to use that same CD to rip the music to his or her computer. This may be a violation of the law, but I’m pretty sure that people who do it do not view it as piracy. From there, it’s another short step to ripping music from a CD that one has borrowed from a public library, or a library owned by a radio station.

    I am not defending any of these behaviors, nor am I suggesting that ignorance of the law is a viable defense for violating the law. What I am saying is that many music consumers have a limited understanding of the copyright laws, especially as these laws apply to the reproduction of digital content. Someone who checks out a music CD from a public library might make the assumption that taxpayer dollars paid for the CD, and being a taxpayer entitles the borrower to copy the music. Likewise, Ms. White may have assumed that the CDs in the radio station’s library were fair game. She clearly didn’t view her activity as illegal or she wouldn’t have publicly admitted to having done it.

    All of this means that we need to (a) educate consumers about the specifics of the existing copyright laws and (b) take a serious look at those laws to see if they are realistic and can be enforced. Laws that cannot be enforced tend to be ignored by the public, and thus they become ineffective.

  3. As a reminder to readers, or at least to one reader wondering why his/her remarks have yet to be moderated, Adaptistration’s blog policy states that anonymous comments are allowed; however, any comments submitted without a working email address to verify legitimacy will likely be deleted without warning or subsequent notice. In order to submit a comment that protects your identity, please use a moniker for the “name” field but leave an email address where you can be reached so as to verify the legitimacy of your comment.

    So please, if you don’t use a verifiable email address and/ore fail to respond to verification requests, don’t expect your anonymous comment to be published.

    Many thanks,
    The Big Bad Blog Author

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