Prepare to "Face the Music" when Downloading from Internet

Q.:  Is it illegal to download music from the Internet?

A.: Generally, yes.  U.S. Copyright Act law allows only the copyright owner to distribute its sound recordings.  The copyright owner is usually the company that produced the sound recording, often a record company.

In some situations, it may be legal to download songs from the Internet, such as when you have permission from the owner.  Web sites such as iTunes, Napster, and Buymusic are now licensed by record labels to distribute music files online, so it is not illegal to download from these Web sites.  Of course, it costs about $1.00 for each song you download.

Q.:    Can I download a song for educational use?

A.: It may be considered “fair use” to download a song solely for educational use, and assuming the song is not being used to make a profit.  However,  the law is not clear as to what falls under this “fair use” exception, so you may wish to consult with a copyright law attorney for advice before downloading.

Q.:   What is the RIAA?

A.: The Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) is a trade organization that represents the largest of the U. S. record labels, including Sony, Bertelsmann, Vivendi Universal, Time Warner Inc. and EMI.  It also certifies Gold, Platinum, Multi-Platinum, and Diamond album awards, based on album sales. 

Since September 2003, the RIAA has been filing lawsuits against people who have been file-swapping through peer-to-peer networks.  Since peer-to-peer networks allow people to be directly connected to other users through the use of special software, the network itself has little control over users who might download songs illegally.  These networks differ from Web sites such as Napster, which utilized a central database.  Although the courts ruled that Napster violated copyright law when it allowed these “free” downloads, the courts have not found that the “peer-to-peer” networks themselves violate copyright law.  The RIAA is therefore bringing lawsuits directly against the individuals who use peer-to-peer networks to download songs illegally.

Q.:    Might I be sued by the RIAA for downloading?

A.: The RIAA can sue an individual for illegally downloading even one song.  The RIAA, however, has targeted individuals it suspects have swapped at lease 1,000 files on peer-to-peer networks.

Q.:   How can I prevent the RIAA from suing me?

A.: The best thing you can do is to stop downloading.  But if you already have engaged in illegal downloading or think you might get sued, you should review the RIAA’s “Clean Slate Program,” an amnesty program for file swappers (see www.riaa.org).  Individuals (not businesses) are eligible if they 1) have not yet been sued, 2) agree to destroy all illegal files they own, 3) did not try to make money), and 4) agree not to download illegally in the future.  More than 1,000 people have used this program.

Q.:   What happens if the RIAA sues me?

A.: Copyright law states that if you infringe on someone’s copyright, you can be ordered to pay money to the copyright owner—as much as $150,000 per violation (or per download).  These cases, however, are often settled for less than $5,000 per violation, and courts may award significantly smaller damage amounts.  If you have downloaded illegally and are sued, consult an attorney experienced in entertainment law.

Q.:    How will the RIAA prove I downloaded songs or that I didn’t copy them from a CD that I legally own?

A.: The RIAA often can tell whether you copied a song from a store-bought CD or from the Internet by using digital fingerprints called "hashes." By reviewing the fingerprints on music files on a person's computer, the RIAA often can determine whether someone recorded a song from a legally purchased CD or downloaded it online from someone else.  The RIAA also is examining “metadata tags,” which are hidden snippets of information embedded within many MP3 music files.

The information contained herein is general and should not be applied to specific legal problems without first consulting with one of our attorneys.

 
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