Thousands of music lovers download tracks or whole albums from commercial music sites or from peer-to-peer networks every day. The laws on downloading music vary from country to country, and the legality of downloading music changes depending on the situation within the same country. This makes navigating copyright laws regarding music downloads tricky.
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Uploading or downloading music and even burning a copy of an album to a CD may be legal or illegal, depending on where you live. In Canada, for instance, it's legal to download music from a peer-to-peer file-sharing service, but it's illegal to upload music to the same service. In the United States, making copies of copyrighted music, except for personal use, is illegal under the The United States Copyright Law and the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Copyright laws prohibit the duplication of copyrighted music without permission from the copyright holder. There are exceptions for personal use (downloading a song from a legal site to your computer and then burning a copy to CD). Exceptions are also made for non-profit libraries and archives.
The authorisation to establish copyright laws is guaranteed in Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Copyright laws originally applied mainly to written material, but later were applied to other creative works, including music. Controversies over copyright law and fair use of music have a long history. For instance, in the 1920s, performance rights societies worked with the FCC to force radio stations to keep better track of the records they played and to ensure that songwriters got the payments they were entitled to. In the 1970s and 1980s, the ease of copying music increased with cassette tapes, but most people did this for personal use and were not pirating music on a large scale. The introduction of the file-sharing program Napster in 1999 suddenly opened up the opportunity to trade music and infringe music copyright to thousands and even millions of people around the world. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began aggressive efforts to shut down peer-to-peer file-sharing services and prosecute those who downloaded music illegally in 2000. The RIAA continues to spearhead prosecution of illegal downloads and public education efforts about music piracy today.
The penalty for illegally downloading music can involve thousands of dollars in fines. U.S. copyright law calls for a minimum penalty of £487 up to £19,500. If someone is making copies and reselling them for a profit, they can incur even higher fines and possibly a jail sentence.
A report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry in early 2009 found that about 95 per cent of music downloads --- or about 40 billion files --- in the previous year were illegal. However, at the same time, legal digital sales also went up about 15 per cent over the previous year.
Anyone who wants to download music without violating the law can do so by only downloading from legal sites. Legal sources for music downloads include sites such as itunes.com and emusic.com, where tracks or albums can be purchased after signing up for a membership. Some musicians also offer single songs or entire albums for free from their websites. This is often done by low-profile bands who want to increase their share of listeners; but free albums have also been offered from established musicians, such as Radiohead and Neil Young.
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