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There has been heated debates globally about downloading music from the internet and if the process is legal or illegal. Many internet users in the United States assert that downloading music is not illegal. However, according to research by International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, about ninety five percent of music available in the internet is downloaded illegally by the users. There has been an increase in digital music sales though huge amounts of music downloaded are for free and no payments are made to the owners. Artists and music companies have altered their whole approach and procedure of doing business where they have remodeled their operations and reacted to the dramatic changes in the way music is distributed and consumed around the world. As more and more music is made available in the internet, online piracy has been on the rise where music is shared without the consent of the artist or the recording company (Swash 2009).
Many people are confused if downloading music from the internet is legal or illegal. Focusing on a survey by PCWorld, about 53 percent of internet users so not consider downloading music from the internet as theft while 31 percent regard it as stealing hence illegal. About 22 percent of internet users have downloaded music from the internet. Many of such people are not concerned whether the music they are downloading in the internet is copyrighted or not. From the survey, it can be deduced that in the general population, young, highly educated and affluent individuals are the most probable to agree that people who engage in downloading music from the internet are not engaging in an illegal activity (Legard 2000). Some computer users in the United States were sued by the recording industry association of America for illegally downloading music. The question one should ask is what constitutes illegal music download? Any activity that violated the copyright law is considered illegal. Unauthorized copying of commercial music or downloading music that is copyright protected is such activities that are illegal. Such activities are federal crimes and many people fall victims without their consent. Many suits have been filled against individuals who download music but do not pay for it. Tracking down people who engage in illegal downloading of music is simple as investigators browse illegal trading sites and track its users via their IP addresses. Some people copy music files from their original CD’s and post them on the internet without the consent of the artist or the music company. Downloading such music is illegal as it violets the copyright law.
We cannot discuss whether downloading music from the internet is legal or illegal without looking at the copyright law. Copyright is a legal concept enacted by governments around the world that strives to give the maker of an original work exclusive right to their work. It normally gives one the right to copy and also gives the copyright holder the right to be recognized for their work, to establish who may adapt the work to other forms, who may financially benefit from the work or who may perform the work. In case of music, it gives the right to copy, play or download the music. In music, one may have a copy of a song in a CD for personal use. When this copy is uploaded to the internet and consequently shared by other users without the consent of the artists is a violation of the copyright law hence being illegal. However, there are cases where artists use some internet sites to distribute their music for free. Some musicians authorize their music to be downloaded from specific websites often as low quality sample or a short preview. When one downloads such music, it is not illegal as the artist themselves authorized that distribution. In the recent years, such acts have been commonplace from musicians who seek to reach a bigger audience and market by getting their music out there. The power of the internet comes in handy as allows them to reach a huge number of fans as it is quick and allows their fans to download music easily. Other artists have embedded services in the internet where one can purchase music from. The United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act is one of the strict laws in the world and considers copying of copyrighted music as contrary to the law hence illegal. Therefore, when one downloads copyrighted music from the internet and makes copies is a breach of the law and hence deemed illegal. Nonetheless, making a copy for personal use is not considered illegal. One may also buy copyrighted music from genuine dealers for personal use. However, when a person uploads such music to the internet for example sharing it via social sites, it constitutes to a breach of the law and therefore is illegal. The music industry has been losing a lot of money as a result downloading music from the internet. When a person is able to download music from the internet, he or she would not need to purchase a CD from the outlets. In the recent years, individual artists and the music industry in general has felt the loss due to copyrighted music downloads and have consequently fought back to try and sue the people who engage in music downloading. Cases of music piracy have increased in courtrooms. From individual music users to creators of music sharing platforms which engage in uploading, downloading and sharing of copyrighted music in the internet have found themselves in courtrooms trying to evade paying huge monetary damages and striving to prove their activities are in fact, fair use. The penalties for breaching the copyright law vary to some extent depending upon whether the violation is for private or commercial financial gain. In the United States, downloading of music from the internet that constitutes infringement on the copyright law will attract a harsh punishment as one may face a jail term of up to three years and huge amounts of fines. People who are fond of the vice should know that repeat offenders attract a jail term of up to six years. Furthermore, persons may also be held civilly liable, in spite of whether the downloading of music from the internet is for making money or not and one may pay up to 150,000 US Dollars per violated copyright in statutory damages.
Focusing on a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, lovers of downloading music from the internet may have a reason to smile as the Court declined to review a lower court case consequently agreeing with the ruling in the lower court that downloading of music from the internet is not a crime that could be punished under the copyright laws (Symmes 2011). In order for a person to be responsible for breaching the copyright law, one must have broadcast the music publicly. The Supreme Court affirmed that downloading music on a personal computer did not amount to a public broadcast and therefore could not be grounds for breaching the copyright law.