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Thursday, October 05, 2006
  Digital Music: Make Sure Your Downloads Are Legal

Understanding the RIAA Lawsuits

In 2003, the RIAA, or Recording Industry Association of America, launched lawsuits against 261 peer-to-peer file sharing users for illegally downloading copyrighted music. Before these lawsuits, the legality of file sharing was widely debated, and all the while P2P file sharing was wildly popular.

Since the first round of RIAA lawsuits, there has been a lot of concern and many misconceptions over where the lines of legality are drawn. The following guidelines should help you understand what's legal, what's not, and what you can do to ensure you're not breaking any laws.

Downloading from the Internet is legal

This is a good place to start. No matter what fears may have been stirred up surrounding music downloading after the RIAA lawsuits, the first thing you should know is that it is 100% legal to download music from the Internet.

There are plenty of legal downloading services that offer music for a per-download or subscription fee.

Not all Internet music downloading is legal

I hate to say it, but the best red flag that you're illegally downloading music is that your music is free and downloaded from a P2P file sharing network. If it is copyrighted (excluding music designated as free using a Creative Commons license or EFF's Open Audio License), especially from a major label, someone will be upset about missing royalties. While there are places where you can find free promotional downloads and free rights music from popular (and not so popular) artists, this is the exception, and most files shared on P2P networks are not this kind of file.

The Facts

To be as specific/technical as possible, downloading copyrighted material without expressed permission is illegal. Such music must be purchased in order to be legal.

Here are some precautions that you can take to safeguard yourself against an RIAA lawsuit:

  1. Very simply put, pay for your music. This is by far the easiest and most full-proof way to ensure that you won't be sued by the RIAA. Basically, you won't be sued if you don't do anything illegal. Obvious enough, right?
  2. So far, the RIAA has only sued users sharing more than 1,000 songs. If you are illegally downloading music, I can't promise you that there is no lawsuit in your future. Keep in mind that, despite the fact that file sharers sharing less than 1,000 songs have avoided lawsuits so far, the illegal downloading of music is still that--illegal.

Hopefully this has cleared up some of the cobwebs of uncertainty surrounding downloading music using the Internet. And now that you know the limitations, get out there and find yourself a digital music downloading service!

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