Space shifting is the process of converting digital media from one format to another. It is also commonly referred to as “place shifting,” which involves moving digital media such as music or movies from one storage device to another. The practice is often frowned upon because it can be used for copyright infringement.

For example, space shifting can take the form of viewing a TV series from a Wi-Fi-connected tablet or converting someone else’s CD tracks into MP3s so you can listen to them for free.

Other space shifting processes may include time shifting, where a radio broadcast is recorded and listened to later, and format shifting, where a media file is converted into a different format.

Other interesting terms…

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Is Space Shifting Legal?

While others, particularly copyright owners, view space shifting as a form of copyright infringement, some consider it ethical, as it falls under the doctrine of fair use. You may have copied songs from your laptop to an MP3 player to listen to them while jogging and not consider the act illegal when it may not be.

In 1999, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed a lawsuit against Diamond Multimedia Systems, Inc., for violating the “Audio Home Recording Act of 1992” for using the Rio MP3. The U.S. Court of Appeals decided that MP3 audio compression is like recording a TV show on a video cassette recorder (VCR). As such, it ruled what Diamond Multimedia Systems did as fair use. The act did not apply to Rio because it is a computer peripheral and not a digital audio recording device. For some, the lawsuit may have helped legalize the use of MP3s.

Furthermore, the use of MP3s is also considered a form of personal space shifting. In essence, a user is transforming and not copying the work.

Best Practices for Digital Media Use

With the meteoric rise in the volume of digital content producers and creators, many may be unaware they may be using copyrighted materials. As such, all consumers need to be aware of best practices when using digital media, which include:

Use of Digital Materials for Illustration Purposes

When used for illustration purposes, such as commenting or critiquing, a media piece can be said to be under the fair use doctrine. However, as much as possible, illustrative quotations must come from different sources and should not be used longer than necessary. Plus, the work’s owner must be properly attributed in credits, the text body, or any associated material.

Digitizing and Reformatting Sound Recordings

Some people may digitize and reformat audio content to preserve recordings, particularly those trapped in old and outdated forms. This practice falls under the fair use doctrine as well. However, it may only be done when the copy is already deteriorating or damaged, which for some, may already be too late.

Usage Rules

Many content creators often share their work, provided they get a fee or necessary attribution. Before converting a file, though, users must read and understand the usage rules or licensing terms to make sure there is no confusion about how a material can be used.

While many people practice space shifting in its many forms because they don’t know its legal ramifications, keep in mind that ignorance is not a defense and that copyright owners have the right to file a case against you if they deem necessary.