Authorized Format Shifting and Space Shifting

What is Format Shifting?

"Format shifting" is a term used to describe converting content from one media format to another. Format conversions may be required to play media on different devices. Examples of format shifting include, converting or ripping audio files on CDs, converting a .wav to an .mp3, or converting a flash .flv video to .mp4 video to play on a mobile device.

What is Space Shifting?

"Space shifting", also known as "place shifting", allows media, such as audio or video, stored on one device then accessed by another device. Space shifting is frequently done through computer networks or other connected devices. Another similar media-shifting process is called "time shifting", a process whereby a public broadcasts are recorded to be played back at a different time.

Format Shifting and Space Shifting - Ruled Non-Commercial Personal Use

In RIAA v. Diamond Multimedia Systems Inc., the Ninth Circuit, citing the U.S. Supreme Court in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, described the process of converting music files contained on compact discs to the .mp3 as format space-shifting in order to make them more portable. Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, writing for the unanimous panel, said that "merely makes copies in order to render portable, or 'space-shift," such copying, as with time-shifting, "is paradigmatic non-commercial personal use," which is entirely consistent with the copyright law, the court said. In the wake of Diamond, space shifting of music files from CD to the .mp3 format fueled the growth of the portable music industry and the creation of the iPod, one of the most beloved and successful consumer electronics devices in history.

It is not an infringement of copyright to format shift or space shift works that you are legally authorized to use, by purchase, by the copyright owner's permission, for content that is in the public domain, as a fair use, for non-commercial user generated content, or with a Creative Commons license. Note: the Creative Commons BY license Creative Commons BY license authorizes you to share, distribute, remix, reuse, and build upon the content, even commercially, as long as you give the original creation credit.

Permissioned Use

In addition to legally acquired content, you are allowed to format shift and space shift content if you get permission from the copyright owner first. A permissioned use is when you get consent from a copyright owner before you use the creative material. If you use a copyrighted work without the appropriate permission, you may be violating or “infringing” the owner’s rights to that work. Infringing someone else’s copyright may subject you to legal action. Before you use the material you should have permission. If you know who the copyright owner is, you may contact the owner directly. If you are not sure who the owner is please contact the copyright office in the copyright owner’s country to locate the copyright owner before you use the material.

Public Domain Content

A public domain work is a creative work that is not protected by copyright and that may be freely used by everyone. Some reasons that work is not protected include: (1) the term of copyright for the work has expired; (2) the author failed to satisfy statutory formalities to perfect the copyright or (3) the work is a work of the U.S. Government. Most works enter the public domain because of old age. This includes any work published in the United States before 1923. Some works are in the public domain because the owner has indicated a desire to give them to the public without copyright protection. Public Domain examples include the works of Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, The Bible, and most of the early silent films.

Fair Use

Fair use is a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from rights holders. Examples of fair use include commentary, search engines, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. It provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test: 1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes 2. The nature of the copyrighted work 3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole 4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

Non-Commercial User Generated Content

Non-commercial user generated content is often referred to as the “YouTube" or "mashup" exception, though it is not limited to video. Establishes a legal safe harbor for creators of non-commercial user generated content. Examples include making a home video of a friend or family member dancing to a popular song and posting it online, or creating a "mash-up" of video clips with music in the background.

With non-commercial user generated content it is not an infringement for you to use an existing work, or copy of one, which has been made available to the public, to create a new work for non-commercial purposes. This exception only applies to creations that do not affect the market for the original material.

Creative Commons

If you’re looking for free songs, videos, and web content, that you already have authorization to format shift, space shift and reuse, please check out MP3 Rocket's Creative Commons search tool. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. There are hundreds of millions of works, from songs and videos to scientific and academic material, all available for free and legal use under CC copyright licenses.


Click here to learn more about Creative Commons licenses.