Legal Music Downloads and US Copyright Law

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Is it wrong to download “free” music from the internet?

By Ray Watson

No, but it must be done with the permission of the copyright owner. Copyright law protects the created works of individuals and their right to profit from the manufacture and sale of their works. Downloading “free” mp3s from a web site that has uploaded files of an artists music without the artists consent is illegal, and deprives the artist of the right to earn a living from his work and provide for his family. The argument that “everybody else is doing it” does not make it legal or ethical.

For a tongue-in-check argument against the reasoning of many people who try to legitimise the theft of christian music read
Ten Persuasive Arguments for Stealing Candy Bars

US Copyright Law and the Audio Home Recording Act

Please read the Legal Disclaimer.

There are websites everywhere offering free downloads of music. Many if not most, are illegal. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is leading the fight to require illegal MP3 web sites to obtain proper licenses and pay royalties. Whether they will be successful in doing so is a matter for debate.

U.S. Copyright Law

To understand the MP3 controversy, you need to know a little bit about copyright law.

The recently amended U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, provides protection for "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device."

Copyright law provides that the creator of a work owns the copyright. When a musician owns the exclusive right to a piece of work, copyright law allows the artist to do just about anything with their creation. They can copy it, sell it, give it away or perform it.

Quoted from article by Mark Grossman and Allison Hift

The Audio Home Recording Act

In 1992, Congress passed the Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA). This is the law that allows you to make an audio recording for your own, non-commercial use.

In 1992, Congress passed the Audio Home Recording Act34 which was an amendment to the federal copyright law. This act allows a first-generation copy of any recorded work to be made by a consumer of a recording for their own personal use. (But this does not allow for multiple secondary copies to be made ie a copy of a copy.) Manufacturers of recording devices pay a tax to copyright owners (whose music is presumably being copied) so they can be compensated. In return, artists agree to waive the right to claim copyright infringement against consumers making copies of their music in their homes. This is in keeping with the “fair use exception” in copyright law, which allows consumers to make copies of copyrighted music for non-commercial purposes. For more information see the following:

Music Piracy and the audio home recording act

Home Recording Rights Coalition Q & A

Digital Audio Home Recording

Question: In recent congressional testimony, the Chairman of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) said that it is not "fair use" to make a copy of your own CD to play in your car. Does any law or court case say this?
Answer: No. Audio home recording is covered by the general principles of fair use. The law as interpreted by the Supreme Court protects the sale of home recording devices, both video and audio, to consumers, and recognizes that the fair use rights of consumers include private, non-commercial home recording, such as making a tape for your car.

An outmoded model?

Time will tell who will win the copyright war over illegal mp3 sites. But there is something in the wind that may forever change the whole perspective on how we look at downloading files from the internet, and that is where the future lies with recorded music. With the advent of new services such as Spotify and similar sites, the desire for downloading pirated music may altogether vanish. If all the world’s music may be listened to online legally 24/7 and the music conveniently exists in “the cloud” rather than on someone’s personal phone or ipod, we may well see the whole debate disappear as the world switches to a new model of accessing and listening to music.

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