Penalty for downloading music illegally

headphones #3 image by Adam Borkowski from

The convenience of downloading music from the Internet without spending a dime may tempt music lovers, but the penalty for illegal downloading is severe. Illegal downloaders and distributors could face hefty fines or stints in prison for stealing copyrighted material.

Though it remains a common activity among young people, it has hurt the music industry and has led to several lawsuits in recent years.


The most common penalty for illegal downloading is a fine. The FBI states that the illegal distribution of copyrighted work--such as music--can lead to a fine of up to £162,500 or five years in prison. Authorities put fake tracks on file-sharing sites to locate the IP address of illegal downloaders, according to "The Independent." In 2007, MTV News reported that several universities enacted rules that suspended on-campus Internet access for students caught illegally downloading music.


According to the Times Online, the average teenager has over 800 illegally downloaded songs on his music player, accounting for nearly 50 per cent of his music library. Ninety-six per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds illegally copy music, either through downloading online or sharing music with friends through e-mail and burnt CDs. However, distributing is more severely penalised than downloading. Between 2004 and 2006, the British Phonographic Industry filed 139 lawsuits against individuals who shared music files online, according to the Times Online.

Popular Opinion

Popular opinion on illegal downloading is divided. In 2000, Napster advocated for free music downloads by saying it was not wrong if the downloaders made no profit from the music--an argument that failed. Meanwhile, musicians such as Kid Rock argue that downloading music without paying for it is theft and should be penalised.


Not everyone takes illegal downloading lightly, as a 2009 trial in Minnesota proves. A 32-year-old woman was accused of illegally downloaded 24 songs, each worth 99 cents. When the jury convicted her, she was fined £52,000 per song for a total of £1.2 million. Within months, a similar trial found a Boston University graduate student guilty of illegally downloading and sharing hundreds of songs online; he faced a fine of £438,750.


Illegal downloading has hurt the music industry, whose CD sales have decreased since 1999, according to the "Boston Globe." "The Independent" states the record industry sold 78 million singles in the United Kingdom in 1997; in 2008, that number was down to 8.6 million. This has led the music industry to fight illegal downloading in recent years--such as its successful attack on Napster.