Legal File-Sharing FAQs
How do I know what is legal and what is not when it comes to copying and sharing music and media?
A good rule of thumb is if the music or media can be purchased, it is protected by copyright. If in doubt, do not share music and other media, and do not install peer-to-peer file-sharing software such as Limewire. Distributing copyrighted media without authorization from the owner, constitutes breaking the law.
If all I do is download music files, am I still breaking the law?
Yes, if the person or network you are downloading from does not have the copyright holder’s permission. You are responsible for what you download and/or share.
Is it illegal to upload music or other media onto the Internet even if I do not charge for it?
If the music is protected by copyright and you do not have the copyright holder’s permission, you cannot share the media. U.S. copyright law prohibits the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted creative work whether or not you charge money for it.
What will happen to me if I get caught copying or distributing copyrighted music illegally?
Aside from facing potential university punitive action, under federal law, first-time offenders who commit copyright violations that involve digital recordings can face criminal penalties of as much as five years in prison and/or $250,000 in fines. You could also be sued by the copyright holder in civil court, which could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars more in damages and legal fees.
Is downloading and uploading music really stealing?
If it is done without the permission of the copyright holder, it is legally no different than walking into a music store, stuffing a CD into your pocket, and walking out without paying for it.
Are there any websites where it is legal to download music?
There are plenty of Internet sites that offer music for legal downloading. View a list of Legal File Sharing Resources.
Can I use email or instant messenger services to exchange songs with my friends?
The use of email or instant messenger services to exchange songs is governed by the same copyright laws that apply to any other form of reproduction or distribution.
Am I breaking the law if I upload or download copyrighted music and leave it on my hard drive for less than 24 hours?
Reproducing or distributing copyrighted music without the permission of the copyright holder is against the law regardless of how long you hold on to the music.
Is it legal to post music that is no longer in print?
Copyrights do not last forever. Eventually all creative work becomes part of what is called the public domain--at which point anyone and everyone is free to copy and distribute it as they please. But just because a particular recording has gone out of print, this does not mean its copyright has lapsed. If it has not, then you need to get permission from the copyright holder before you post it.
What if I upload or download music to or from a server that is based outside of the U.S.?
If you are in the United States, U.S. law applies to you regardless of where the server may be located.
What if I download or upload poor-quality recordings?
The law prohibits unauthorized copying and/or distribution of digital recordings that are recognizable copies of copyrighted work. The quality of the recordings does not matter.
How do I know if something is copyrighted?
When you buy music legally, there is usually a copyright mark somewhere on the product. Stolen music generally doesn’t bear a copyright mark or warning. Either way, the copyright law still applies. A copyrighted creative work does not have to be marked as such to be protected by law.
Doesn't the First Amendment give me the right to download and upload anything I want, including copyrighted music?
No, it does not. What copyright law prohibits is theft, not free expression.
Doesn’t the "Fair Use doctrine" give me the right to download and upload copies of music I have purchased?
No, it does not. In certain instances, the use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research might not constitute infringement, depending on:
- The purpose and character of the use
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work has a whole
- The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. However, courts have rejected the notion that uploading and downloading copyrighted sound recordings without permission constitutes "fair use."
Besides the record companies, who does copying music actually hurt?
First and foremost, illegal copying hurts the songwriters and recording artists who make the music. They depend on the royalties they get from the authorized sales of their recordings to make a living. Many recording artists receive most of their income from royalties. For many young artists, income from royalties means survival. In the end, illegal downloading means that artists will not be fully rewarded for their hard work and devotion to their craft.
What if my computer is sharing materials without my knowledge or involvement via a file-sharing program like Limewire or Kazaa. Can I still be held accountable?
Yes, if you have a file-sharing program installed on your machine, you are responsible for its access and use of campus resources as if you were executing the commands yourself. The best way to prevent unintentional sharing of music is by not installing file-sharing software of this kind. Instead, use a Legal File Sharing Resource.