If you make copies of copyrighted music recordings without the copyright holder’s permission, you are stealing music and that’s against the law.

It’s relatively easy for investigators to obtain the I.P. addresses of users who illegally distribute copyrighted music files especially if they’re distributing lots of them.

Under Federal law, first-time offenders who commit copyright violations that involve digital recordings can face criminal penalties.

Copying FAQs

How do I know what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to copying music?
Here’s the bottom line: If you distribute copyrighted music without authorization from the copyright owner, you are breaking the law. (Distribution can mean anything from "sharing" music files on the Internet to burning multiple copies of copyrighted music onto blank CD-Rs.) For more information about what’s okay and what’s not, click here.

Is it illegal to upload music onto the Internet even if I don’t charge for it?
Yes, if the music is protected by copyright and you don’t have the copyright holder’s permission. U.S. copyright law prohibits the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted creative work whether or not you charge money for it.

What will happen to me if I get caught illegally copying or distributing copyrighted music?
Under federal law, first-time offenders who commit copyright violations that involve digital recordings can face criminal penalties of as much as five years in prison and/or $250,000 in fines. You could also be sued by the copyright holder in civil court, which could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars more in damages and legal fees. For more information about legal penalties, click here.

Is downloading and uploading music really stealing?
If it’s done without the permission of the copyright holder, it’s legally no different than walking into a music store, stuffing a CD into your pocket, and walking out without paying for it.

Are there any sites where it’s legal to download music?
There are plenty of Internet sites that offer music for legal downloading. To check them out, click here.

If all I do is download music files, am I still breaking the law?
Yes, if the person or network you’re downloading from doesn’t have the copyright holder’s permission.

Can I use E-mail or instant messenger services to exchange songs with my friends?
The use of e-mail or instant messenger services to exchange songs is governed by the same copyright laws that apply to any other form of reproduction or distribution.

Am I breaking the law if I upload or download copyrighted music and leave it on my hard drive for less than 24 hours?
Reproducing or distributing copyrighted music without the permission of the copyright holder is against the law regardless of how long you hold on to the music.

Is it legal to post music that is no longer "in print"?
Copyrights don’t last forever. Eventually all creative work becomes part of what is called the public domain—at which point anyone and everyone is free to copy and distribute it as they please. But just because a particular recording has gone out of print doesn’t mean its copyright has lapsed. If it hasn’t, then you need to get permission from the copyright holder before you post it.

What if I upload or download music to or from a server that is based outside of the U.S.?
If you are in the United States, U.S. law applies to you regardless of where the server may be located.

What if I download or upload poor-quality recordings?
The law prohibits unauthorized copying and/or distribution of digital recordings that are recognizable copies of copyrighted work. The quality of the recordings doesn’t matter.

How do I know if something is copyrighted?
When you buy music legally, there is usually a copyright mark somewhere on the product. Stolen music generally doesn’t bear a copyright mark or warning. Either way, the copyright law still applies. A copyrighted creative work does not have to be marked as such to be protected by law.

Doesn’t the First Amendment give me the right to download and upload anything I want, including copyrighted music?
The answer is, no, it does not. What copyright law prohibits is theft, not free expression.

Doesn’t the "Fair Use doctrine" give me the right to download and upload copies of music I’ve purchased?
No, it doesn’t. In certain instances, the use of a copyrighted work for purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research might not constitute infringement, depending on (1) the purpose and character of the use, (2) the nature of the copyrighted work, (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work has a whole, and (4) the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. However, courts have rejected the notion that uploading and downloading copyrighted sound recordings without permission constitutes the "fair use."

Besides the record companies, who does copying music actually hurt?
First and foremost, illegal copying hurts the songwriters and recording artists who make the music. These people depend on the royalties they get from the authorized sales of their recordings to make a living. Many recording artists receive most of their income from royalties. For many young artists, income from royalties means survival. In the end, illegal downloading guarantees that artists won’t be fully rewarded for their hard work and devotion to the craft.

Are you against "peer-to-peer" services?
We are not against P2P services. We are against people who steal and illegally distribute copyrighted music that doesn’t belong to them. The music industry has been a major beneficiary of new technology (from wax cylinders to vinyl to LPs to CDs), and the current technological developments are no exception. But let's face it, even great technology can be abused. And that's what the industry is confronting right now. We have to figure out how to take advantage of the great new delivery systems that the Internet offers, without being seriously damaged by uncontrolled piracy. P2P in particular can really be a fabulous technology - but right now it's doing far more harm than good. (So surveys show.)

What is your position on MP3s?
We think MP3 technology is a great thing—as long as it’s used legally and properly.