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Online music

Downloading music or movies using peer-to-peer networks can be a temptation. It’s easy, it doesn’t cost anything, and it gets you exactly what you want. There are lots of reasons people think file sharing and downloading files is okay, but the bottom line is, mostly it’s not. The goals of this site are to help you understand what is and isn’t okay, know how to use information technology resources responsibly, identify legal sources of online music and other copyrighted intellectual property, and understand intellectual property laws and university policy.

There are numerous legal sources for online music, movies, software and other intellectual property. Major labels, indie labels and studios, solo artists, movie studios, and many others are choosing to distribute via the web. Information Technology Services (ITS) encourages students to explore and use these resources to maintain compliance with university policies, including the Resnet Acceptable Use policy, and the law. The commercial music, movie, radio, and software services listed below allow students to purchase/license and download content. All of the listed services assert that they comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Other than services it provides, ITS does not recommend the use of a particular service, nor does it warrant that a service is compliant with the DMCA. Students are responsible for reading and understanding service agreements and for complying with the law and ITS and university policies. Remember to choose intelligently: know what issues to consider when choosing a service.

Most common Questions



1. Who actually holds the copyright in a piece of music - artist, record company, composer/publisher or all three?

There is generally more than one owner of rights in any given track. The people who wrote the tune and the lyrics and/or their publishers own authors' rights, which is the classic copyright. The artist that performs that music has certain 'related rights' as a performer. And a record label typically owns the copyright or producer's related rights in the particular recording of the song.

Permission is needed from all of these people who created the music-or those to whom they have assigned their rights-in order to use the music.

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2. How do I know if there's a copyright on a particular piece of music?

All music and recordings of music are copyrighted and also subject to protections of 'related rights' as of the date they are created, and for at least 50 years afterwards (up to 120 years in some countries). In Europe, for example, authors and music publishers retain copyright for 70 years after the death of the author. You may find a copyright or other notice indicating that the music is protected (e.g. © (P) 2003, Acme Records Ltd. All rights reserved), but these are not necessary. Protection is automatic.

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3. How do I know if what I'm doing is legal or illegal?

Under copyright and related rights it is not legal to copy, adapt, translate, perform, or broadcast a protected work or recording, or put it on the internet, unless a specific exception exists in the copyright law of your country, or unless you have permission from all of the relevant owners of rights.

Copyright and related protections apply in virtually every country. In fact they are required by international law in the 150 countries that are members of various copyright treaties, and the 145 countries that are members of the World Trade Organisation.

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4. Is it illegal for me to copy and distribute music even if I'm not making money out of it?

The question of whether you are doing copying for profit may affect what penalties apply, but does not determine whether you are in breach of copyright.

The legal case against the illegal file-sharing service Napster proved the point. The court found that users of that peer-to-peer service were engaged in 'commercial' copying even though no money changed hands. The key ruling of the court was that 'Napster users get for free something that they would ordinarily have to buy.' Napster, 114 F. Supp. 2d, at 912.

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5. Isn't it legal to make copies for my own personal use?

The laws of some countries have limited exceptions to the rights owners' rights to control copying, which allow a limited number of copies to be made strictly for personal and private use.

These exceptions do not apply, however, if you make available or transmit copyright material over the internet, distribute your 'private' copies, or (in many countries) copy from illegal sources. In short, the law does not allow indiscriminate peer-to-peer transfers of copyright material. These do not fit the definition of 'private' copies. This is 'public' copying among millions of users.

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6. If I have bought a legitimate CD, can't I do what I like with the music on it?

In buying a legitimate CD you have paid for the right to own the physical disc, to play it privately, and to pass on the same physical disc to another person. You have not bought the right to distribute copies, whether on CD-R or over the internet.

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7. So what if I break the law - what can anyone do about it?

Where people persistently make music available on the internet in breach of copyright laws, they are in effect acting as copyright thieves and that exposes them to the risk of legal action by the copyright holders.

Owners of copyright and related rights regularly take action in different countries to remove illegal material from the internet and to seek civil or criminal sanctions against infringers. Hundreds of millions of music files are removed from the internet each year through co-operation between internet service providers and the music industry.

Civil and criminal lawsuits have been taken against internet infringers in many countries. The music industry has announced its intention to step up action against copyright theft of this type.

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8. Is there a copyright on all music, including music that may no longer be available commercially?

Generally, yes. While some very old songs may have fallen into the public domain, the vast bulk of those that appear on the internet are still under copyright protection.

The fact that a song or a track is no longer offered commercially by its creators is not relevant. It's their music, and copyright gives them the right to withdraw their work from commercial publication if they like.

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9. What if I just want to download a few songs to see if it's worth buying the album?

That's fine if you're allowed to so by the holder of the rights. Some commercial sites let you listen to clips from particular songs, or sample a limited download of tracks from their service, as a 'taster' of the music.

But there is no general right or exception that lets you copy before you buy without permission, for the obvious reason that once something is copied it probably won't be bought.

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10. Is it all right to transmit and copy material over the internet if it is marked with 'delete within 24 hours', 'for evaluation purposes', or a similar disclaimer?

These excuses are not recognised by copyright. The law looks to the reality of what is happening-unauthorised transmission and reproduction of somebody else's music-rather than 'fine print' that is clearly false.

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11. Does it make a difference how much I'm uploading?

You are likely to be breaking the law whether you are uploading one copyrighted song or thousands. Of course the impact on the legitimate music community of what you are doing is more serious the more music you are illegally uploading.

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12. Is all file-sharing illegal?

The vast bulk of peer-to-peer 'file sharing' is considered illegal copying and transmission of copyright material. But this is a matter of choice for the rights owners involved. It's fine if the owners of rights for any particular song agree that it could be put on a peer-to-peer service and copied and transmitted without payment or restriction.

Most rights owners do not do this, however, because they see peer-to-peer activities as hurting sales of music and the livelihoods of people in the business.

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13. What if I download music from a site from a different country than the one I'm in, where the law might be different?

Internet activities of this sort typically involve acts of copying, transmission, or distribution in both countries, so both countries' laws would apply. Copyright owners usually take action in the country in which the infringer is located, however.

Among most of the countries where the internet is prevalent, there are international agreements in place allowing court judgments in one country to be enforced in the other. This process would be typically used only in complicated or unusual cases.

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14. Where can I find out more about the different laws on copying and copyright?

What is copyright? FAQ's. World Intellectual Property Organisation.

What is copyright? Copyright and the internet. The international legal framework. IFPI.

Where can I look at various countries' copyright laws? WIPO collection of laws for electronic access..


About the information given on this web site

Please note.
The intention of this web site is to make available wide-ranging copyright information while offering basic copyright education to our visitors. Many of your questions and queries on the subject of copyright may be answered within this web site or through the recommended links and resources provided on our links page.The information contained within this site is offered as a consideration to visitors and at no time should the information be construed as legal advice; for all legal matters, we encourage our visitors to seek the assistance of an attorney.

 site logo    Copyright Law, Treaties and Advice 2007  All rights reserved

Reprinted from Finding Legal Online Music, Movies, and Other Electronic Content. (, with permission from ITS, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712-1110

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