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Music is protected by copyright. The unauthorized downloading or uploading of music is actionable as copyright infringement, even if not done for profit.

The Law

It’s a Criminal Act
Copyright law protects the value of creative work
When you make illegal copies of someone’s creative work, you are stealing and breaking the law.

Most likely, you’ve seen the FBI warning on a movie DVD or VHS cassette—well, the same applies, with equal force, to music. If you have been illegally reproducing or distributing copyrighted music, maybe you should give it a closer read.

Federal law provides severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized reproduction, distribution, rental or digital transmission of copyrighted sound recordings. (Title 17, United States Code, Sections 501 and 506). The FBI investigates allegations of criminal copyright infringement and violators will be prosecuted.

You won’t find these messages on music you’ve downloaded illegally, but the full weight of the law applies just the same.

So you really should find out:

1. What the Law Says and What it Means
If you make unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings, you’re stealing. You’re breaking the law, and you could be held legally liable for thousands of dollars in damages.

That’s pretty important information to have, considering how serious it would be if you were caught and prosecuted by the authorities or sued in civil court. It’s even more important that you understand that when you illicitly make or distribute recordings, you are taking something of value from the owner without his or her permission.

You may find this surprising. After all, when you’re on the Internet, digital information can seem to be as free as air. But the fact is that U. S. copyright law prohibits the unauthorized duplication, performance or distribution of a creative work.

That means you need the permission of the copyright holder before you copy and/or distribute a copyrighted music recording.

What the Courts Have to Say
For all the public confusion, a long series of court rulings has made it very clear that it’s against the law both to upload and download copyrighted music without permission.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with sound recordings, pictures, software or written text. The courts have consistently ruled that P2P and other unauthorized uploading and downloading inherently amount to copyright infringement and therefore constitute a crime.

Click here to see exactly What the Courts Have to Say About Illegal Uploading and Downloading.

Don’t you have a better way to spend five years and $250,000?

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2. Examples of easy ways you could violate the law:

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3. Do The Crime, Do The Time
If you do not have legal permission, and you go ahead and copy or distribute copyrighted music anyway, you can be prosecuted in criminal court and/or sued for damages in civil court.

The "No Electronic Theft Law" (NET Act) is similar on copyright violations that involve digital recordings:

If you make digital copies of copyrighted music on your computer available to anyone through the Internet without the permission of the copyright holder, you’re stealing. And if you allow a P2P file-sharing network to use part of your computer’s hard drive to store copyrighted recordings that anyone can access and download, you’re on the wrong side of the law.

Having the hardware to make unauthorized music recordings doesn’t give you the right to steal. Music has value for the artist and for everyone who works in the industry. Please respect that.

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4. What the Courts Have to Say About Illegal Uploading and Downloading…
…and Copyrighted Sound Recordings:

"As stated by Record Company Plaintiffs in their brief, "Aimster predicates its entire service upon furnishing a 'road map' for users to find, copy, and distribute copyrighted music." …We agree. Defendants [Aimster] manage to do everything but actually steal the music off the store shelf and hand it to Aimster's users."
Aimster Copyright Litigation. 01-C-8933, MDL # 1425 (Memorandum Opinion and Order, September 4, 2002).

"…they [Aimster] apparently believe that the ongoing, massive, and unauthorized distribution and copying of Record Company Plaintiffs' copyrighted works by Aimster's end users somehow constitutes "personal use.’ This contention is specious and unsupported by the very case on which Defendants rely."
Aimster Copyright Litigation. 01-C-8933, MDL # 1425 (Memorandum Opinion and Order, September 4, 2002).

"Napster users infringe at least two of the copyright holders’ exclusive rights . . . .Napster users who upload file names to the search index for others to copy violate plaintiffs’ distribution rights. Napster users who download files containing copyrighted music violate plaintiffs’ reproduction rights….[V]irtually all Napster users engage in the unauthorized downloading or uploading of copyrighted music . . ."
A & M Records v. Napster, Inc., 239 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2001).

"Although defendant [MP3.com] seeks to portray its service as the ‘functional equivalent’ of storing its subscribers’ CDs, in actuality defendant is re-playing for the subscribers converted versions of the recording it copied, without authorization, from plaintiffs’ copyrighted CDs. On its face, this makes out a presumptive case of infringement under the Copyright Act . . . ."
UMG Recordings, Inc. v. MP3.com, Inc., 92 F. Supp. 2d 349 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).

…and Copyrighted Images:
"Distributing unlawful copies of a copyrighted work violates the copyright owner’s distribution right and, as a result, constitutes copyright infringement. . . . . [Unlawful distribution occurs where] [f]iles of [copyrighted] information are stored in the central system, and subscribers may either ‘download’ information into their[computers] or ‘upload’ information from their home units into the central files . . . ."
Playboy Enterprises v. Russ Hardenburgh, Inc., 982 F. Supp. 503 (N.D. Ohio 1997).

"[The Copyright Act] provides that an owner of a copyrighted work has the exclusive right to reproduce the work in copies . . . [and] to distribute copies of the work to the public . . . . [A]nyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner … is an infringer of the copyright."
Playboy Enterprises v. Webbworld Inc., 991 F. Supp. 543 (N.D. Tex. 1997).

…and Copyrighted Software:
"Uploading is copying. Downloading is also copying. Unauthorized copying is an unauthorized use that is governed by the copyright laws. Therefore, unauthorized uploading and unauthorized downloading are unauthorized uses governed by the copyright laws . . . ."
Ohio v. Perry, 83 Ohio St. 3d 41, 697 N.E.2d 624 (Ohio 1998).

"The unauthorized copying of copyrighted computer programs is . . . an infringement of the copyright . . . . [U]nauthorized copies . . . are made when such games are uploaded to the BBS [Bulletin Board Service] . . . [and] when they are downloaded to make additional copies by users . . . ."
Sega Enterprises v. MAPHIA, 857 F. Supp. 679 (N.D. Cal. 1994).

"‘[C]opying,’ for the purposes of copyright law, occurs when a computer program is transferred from a permanent storage device to a computer's random access memory. In this case, copies were made when the Sega game files were uploaded to or downloaded from [the defendant’s] BBS [Bulletin Board Service]."
Sega Enterprises. v. Sabella, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20470 (N.D. Cal. 1996).

…and Copyrighted Text:
"Defendant Free Republic is a ‘bulletin board’ website whose members use the site to post news articles to which they add remarks or commentary . . . . The Plaintiffs' [Los Angeles Times and Washington Post] complaint alleges that unauthorized copying and posting of the articles on the Free Republic site constitutes copyright infringement . . . . [P]laintiffs' motion for summary adjudication with respect to fair use is granted . . . ."
L.A. Times v. Free Republic, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5669 (C.D. Cal. 2000).

"When a person browses a website, and by so doing displays the [copyrighted] Handbook, a copy of the Handbook is made in the computer's random access memory (RAM), to permit viewing of the material. And in making a copy, even a temporary one, the person who browsed infringes the copyright. Additionally, a person making a printout or re-posting a copy of the Handbook on another website would infringe plaintiff's copyright."
Intellectual Reserve, Inc. v. Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Inc., 75 F. Supp. 2d 1290 (D. Utah 1999).

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5. When It Comes to Copying Music, What’s Okay … And What’s Not:

Technology has made digital copying easier than ever. But just because advances in technology make it possible to copy music doesn’t mean it’s legal to do so. Here are tips from some record labels on how to enjoy the music while respecting rights of others in the digital world. Stick with these, and you’ll be doing right by the people who created the music.

Internet Copying

Copying CDs

Are there occasionally exceptions to these rules? Sure. A "garage" or unsigned band might want you to download its own music; but, bands that own their own music are free to make it available legally by licensing it. And, remember that there are lots of authorized sites where music can be downloaded for free. Better to be safe than sorry – don’t assume that downloading or burning is legal just because technology makes it easy to do so.

Enjoy the music. By doing the right thing, you’ll be doing your part to make sure that the music keeps coming.

This site is intended to educate consumers about the issues associated with the downloading, uploading and consumer copying of music. It is not intended to offer legal advice or be a comprehensive guide to copyright law and the commercial uses of music.

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