We’ve all been there, surfing the net when a friend sends us the link to download a song from an, as yet, unreleased album. You’ve seen the advert where a teenager’s in the process of illegally downloading a song and clicks cancel at the last minute. All these scenarios are probably familiar but which one is legal? The rules and regulations on downloading music are a bit fuzzy, to say the least, and, like anything web related, can vary depending on the how the law is interpreted.
Downloaders tend to fall into three categories, those who don’t care if the site is illegal or not and are happy to get caught for the sake of saving ten dollars on buying a CD or MP3. People who still want to listen but are actively concerned about what their doing is safe, and those who are so afraid that the FBI is going to do them for piracy they immediately turn off their computer! The fact is most of us who are downloading aren’t actively trying to break the law, we’re either confused about what’s ok and what isn’t or don’t know where you can listen to music for free.
Why Download At All?
Back in the day, your only choices were cassette tapes and later CD’s whereas now you can listen to music on the go, via your phone or laptop or even stream it live from the radio. People aren’t exactly rushing to shell out on a new album when they can listen to it online for free and herein lies the problem. People love having free stuff, to the point where they’ be willing to break the law to get hold of music, TV shows, and movies. Once this happened, the floodgates opened as anything that could be digitally reproduced including books, art, blogs, video games and paid for newspaper articles could be accessed without consumers having to pay a single penny for them.
Overnight, sites sprang up offering people the chance to catch up on the latest episode of their TV show, ahead of it airing and advertising movies that hadn’t even been released in cinemas yet. Of course, clicking random, unverified links online comes at a price. Hackers have long since weaseled their way into codec programs to install nasty viruses, the promised movie or TV show never appears and instead you could be directed to a site featuring adult content or end up watching helplessly as your device is suddenly inundated with pop-up windows.
It’s All About The Copyright
Let’s say you decided to write, produce and market a song you’d want to be paid for it right? Well, so do the artists, producers, and promoters so to ensure that they retain the rights to their creative works copyright laws were introduced. Copyright law states that when an artist releases a song, writes a novel or paints an artwork it’s automatically protected and that they own the copyright. Copyright often spans the entirety of the artist’s life, and fifty years after their death which is why you often read articles about relatives suing companies for using a deceased relative’s work or upload music free without asking permission first.
However, there’s also another issue to consider which is that of creative commons licensing, a license allowing a person to share, use and cover someone’s work providing that the artist gave them permission first. Copyright is also designed to make sure that royalty checks i.e. payment that’s given every time a song is used in say a TV show or advert reaches the copyright owner. Producing a song costs thousands of dollars, and hundreds of working hours while the cost of making a summer blockbuster can easily spiral into the millions. Essentially, when you watch, listen or read something illegally you’re stealing the creator’s right to be paid.
When’s It Ok And When Isn’t It?
It’s not so much the act of downloading, unless you’re on an illegal site in the first place that makes downloading music a bad thing it’s the content itself. Downloading a PDF for work, is a lot different to listening to a pirated copy of Beyonce’s latest album or reading an as of yet unpublished manuscript of a brand new Harry Potter novel. However, if you were a proofreader for J.K Rowling and she gave you permission to do so, then that’s ok. In short, it boils down to two things; Did you pay for the content? Do you own, or did you ask the owner permission before you downloaded anything? If the answer to these questions is no then the chances are it’s illegal.