Popular Myths About Copying and Sharing MP3s and CDs

Staying on the right side of the legal and ethical line

Computer with illustrated cd mp3 file coming out of it


pictafolio / Getty Images

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about what is or is not legal regarding copyrighted music. People don’t seem to know where the line is between enjoying music from an artist or band they like and violating the copyright protection of that same music. Below is a list of some common myths associated with buying, sharing, and listening to digital music and what the realities are.

Downloading Songs for Free From the Internet Is Fine

Unfortunately, with very few exceptions, this is untrue. The songs are copyright protected and the owner of the copyright is owed compensation for the song. If you find downloadable music on the internet for free, the individual or business sharing the music is most likely violating the law and if you download the song without paying for it you will be stealing.

Any Song You Get From the Internet Is Illegal

This is false. While downloading songs for free from P2P (peer-to-peer networking) services or other individual computers is illegal, selling music by the song in digital format is a perfectly viable and legal way to purchase music. There are a many great sites to purchase songs from, most notably the Apple iTunes store. Other services that allow you to buy and download music include Google Play Music, Amazon Music, and Napster, as well as more artist-friendly sites like Bandcamp.

I Can Share My Music With Friends Because I Own the CD

The fact that you purchased a CD entitles you to listen to the music all you want, but not to share that privilege with others. You can make a copy of the CD for yourself in case you lost or damaged the original. You can rip the music from the CD onto your computer or laptop and convert the music to MP3, WMA, or other formats, and then listen to it on portable music players and devices. Your purchase of the music entitles you to listen to it pretty much any way you want, but you can’t give copies of it to friends or family.

It's OK Because I Gave My Friend the Original CD

You can sell or give away the original CD, but only as long as you no longer have any copies of the music in any format (unless of course, you have another copy that has been legitimately paid for). You cannot copy the CD onto your computer and load MP3’s of it onto your portable MP3 player, and then give the original CD to your best friend because you don’t need it anymore.

Think of it like buying a couch. You can use the couch in your living room if you want. You can move it to a bedroom if it works better for you there. You can remove the throw pillows and use them in a different room than the couch. But when you give the couch to your friend, the couch is gone. You cannot both give the couch away and keep the couch at the same time. Music, at least within the parameters of the law, works much the same way.

It Isn’t 'Stealing' Because I Wasn’t Going to Pay for It Anyway

Some people feel that because they would never actually spend the money to buy the CD, illegally copying or downloading music from somewhere else really isn’t costing the artist or the industry any money.

Along these same lines, some people may copy or download music to see if they like it enough to buy it, but then never get around to buying it. However, sites like Amazon now have clips or samples available to listen to virtually every song on any CD available. Rather than crossing the ethical line, you should just visit a site like this and play clips to help you make a purchase decision. In the end, you may find that you would rather buy just one or two songs for $1 each rather than spend $15 for an album filled with music you don’t care for.