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


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There seems to be a great deal of confusion about what is, or is not, legal regarding music these days. People don’t seem to know where the line is between enjoying music from an artist or band that they like or violating the copyright protection of that same music. Below is a list of 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 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 of purchasing music. There are many great sites to purchase songs from, most notably the Apple iTunes website. The music industry has a list of legal online digital music sites you can purchase from.

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 damage or lose the original. You can rip the music from the CD onto your computer or laptop and convert the music to MP3 or WMA or other formats and listen to it on portable MP3 players or other 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. We're not suggesting that you can't *play* the music when other people are around, but that you can't give them a copy of the music, in any format, to take with them when they leave.

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 can not 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 you bought 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 can’t *both* give the couch away *and* keep the couch at the same time, and the music that you buy should be treated 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 try and decide if they like it enough to buy it and just never get around to buying it. However, sites like Amazon.com now have clips or samples available to listen to virtually every song on every CD available. Rather than crossing the ethical line, you should just visit a site like this and play the clips to help you make your purchasing decision. In the end, you may very well find that you would rather buy just one or two songs for $1 each rather than spending $15 for a CD filled mostly with music you don’t care for.