MP3 music files have been available for several years, and file-sharing programs are more popular than ever. Still, many people are confused about what is legal and what isn’t. Can downloading music put you at risk for legal action?

It’s no wonder so people are confused. The Net is full of sites with ads for “Napster replacements” which claim to be 100% legal. You may have read claims that “MP3 is legal” and “file sharing is legal.” These statements are true, but very misleading.

Is MP3 legal? Yes, because MP3 is just a file format. Indeed, the vast majority of MP3 files found on the Web are perfectly legal, put up there by unknown bands who want to get noticed or by established artists promoting their current material.

Is file sharing legal? It can be, but the vast majority of files shared on P2P (peer-to-peer) networks like KaZaA and Shareza violate copyright law.

What is illegal is unauthorized copying of commercial music. This usually means MP3’s that are made from CD’s and then put on the Net by individuals who haven’t sought permission from the artist or music company.

What do copyright laws allow? To put it simply, you may make a copy of your own CD for your personal use. That means you may record it to a cassette tape or rip it to MP3 files. You may not, however, give this copy to another person. Many people believe that if no money is involved, then no law has been broken. This is false. Whether you give the copy away or sell it, this is still a violation of copyright law.

The bottom line: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you want the latest hits, you need to pay for them. Fortunately, the legitimate online music services are very good, and the competition is keeping the prices down.

by Steve Allen

When is downloading music on the Internet illegal?

So your daughter wants the new Britney Spears CD or perhaps you’re looking to make a nice Christmas music compilation for playing over the holidays. For many people it is as simple as opening one of many peer-to-peer file share programs, selecting the tracks, downloading and burning to a CD-ROM. What isn’t so simple about downloading music is the copyright protection laws that people break everyday by downloading some music tracks off the Internet. To make matters even more muddled, some music can be lawfully downloaded, and for those that aren’t, laws regarding the sharing and downloading of music on the Internet vary from country to country.

In Canada, for example, downloading copyright music from peer-to-peer networks is legal, but uploading those files is not. Additionally Canada has imposed fees on recording mediums like blank CDs and similar items. These levies are used to fund musicians and songwriters for revenues lost due to consumer copying. Canada has initially charged this tax on MP3 players, but a recent Supreme Court decision ruled that the law was written in such a way that these players were exempt from the tax.

The U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act is much more strict and deems copying of copyrighted music (with the exception of making a copy for your own use) as illegal. The U.S. Code protects copyright owners from the unauthorized reproduction, adaptation or distribution of sound recordings, as well as certain digital performances to the public. In more general terms, it is considered legal for you to purchase a music CD and record (rip) it to MP3 files for your own use. Uploading these files via peer-to-peer networks would constitute a breach of the law.

One of the big issues concerning the music industry is, of course, the revenue loss. In theory, if a person is able to download his or her favorite music off the Internet, that person would not need to purchase the CD at a local music store. Every story you read will most likely produce a different set of numbers the music industry claims it has lost due to music downloading. The most common average of numbers seems to sit around a loss of 20 percent globally in sales since 1999.

Organizations that support music sharing and downloading however have thrown a wrench into the statistics released by the music industry as they suggest some of these losses are due to a bad economy and fewer “new releases” hitting the market in some of those years. It is obvious that the music industry has to be losing some money due to Internet music file sharing, but finding the exact amount lost due to music downloading isn’t so simple. One thing that is for certain however is that the loss affects the industry, the musicians, and even sound technicians, recording studios, and music stores.

The music industry and even some musicians who feel they are taking a loss due to the sharing of their copy-protected works online have started fighting back, so to speak. In recent months there have been more cases of music piracy heading to the courts. From the creators of peer-to-peer and music sharing program authors, to individual users uploading and sharing copy-protected works online, more people are finding themselves in court trying to avoid paying monetary damages and trying to prove that what they are doing is in fact, fair use.

As mentioned on the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), the penalties for breaching the copyright act differ slightly depending upon whether the infringing is for commercial or private financial gain. If you think being caught infringing on these copyright laws will result in a small fine or “slap on the wrist”, think again! In the U.S., the online infringement of copyrighted music can be punished by up to three years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Repeat offenders can be imprisoned up to six years. Individuals also may be held civilly liable, regardless of whether the activity is for profit, for actual damages or lost profits, or for statutory damages up to $150,000 per infringed copyright.

If there are so many lawful issues surrounding the downloading of music, you might wonder why we have such in influx of MP3 players, CD burners, and even software that allows users to easily rip music from a CD to their computer. The simple answer is that these devices do have a legitimate and legal fair use association. As mentioned earlier, you may choose to make your personal back-up copy to use in a MP3 player, or you may visit one of many Web sites, like iTunes, which offers music that you pay for as you download. While some may wonder why people are willing to pay for what can be had for ‘free’. Those who do prefer to obey the copyright protection laws have sung in to the tune of purchasing over 150 million songs from the iTunes site alone.

Vangie ‘Aurora’ Beal
Writer, Last updated: December 22, 2004

Music downloads offered by artists

Some artists allow their songs to be downloaded from their websites, often as a short preview or a low quality sampling. Others have embedded services in their sites that allow purchases of their singles or albums, as demonstrated by Metallica’s official website.

The band Bomb The Music Industry!, known for their DIY punk ethic, released all five of their albums as free downloads on their website.

Other music artists, most notably Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, have offered their music to listeners for free, sometimes in defiance of their record labels. In 2005, Nine Inch Nails released the full-length album With Teeth on their MySpace page prior to its official in-store release date. More recently, the band leaked various tracks off their album Year Zero by hiding USB flash drives in concert venues. In past years, acts such as these have been commonplace from artists who seek to get their music out to a wider market, usually by tapping the power of the Internet.

In addition to this and to music stores, peer-to-peer downloading programs or websites such as LimeWire, Kazaa, BearShare, MP3-Xtreme and many others are very popular. Additionally, Torrent file sharing is another common method of peer-to-peer transfers. There is much controversy relating to file sharing due to copyright restrictions that apply to recorded media.

Challenges to music downloading

Even legal music downloads have faced a number of challenges from artists, record labels and the Recording Industry Association of America. In July 2007, the Universal Music Group decided not to renew their long term contracts with iTunes. This legal challenge was primarily based upon the issue of pricing of songs, as Universal wanted to be able to charge more or less depending on the artist, a shift away from iTunes’ standard 99 cents per song pricing. Many industry leaders feel that this is only the first of many show-downs between Steve Jobs and the various record b labels.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

See also…

Intellectual Property and Internet Law