Illegal Music Downloading: Legal Issues


Business voices in the music industry have asserted the threat caused by illegal music downloads and piracy. The issue has raised legal problems besides reducing sales of legitimate CDs. Illegal downloads have replaced conventional legal music purchases. Many business analysts have viewed that the present slump in music sales has been a result of unchecked downloads and availability of illegal music copies using peer-to-peer and MP3 technologies (Kipp, 2003, p.15). End-user piracies, distinct from commercial piracy, have seemed ambiguous to hold. Music industry experts have asserted that the existence of internet downloads is at risk of ruining the music industry.

Label and policymakers have time and again addressed the issue of internet downloads by instituting fitting copyright laws, enhancing technological protection, strengthening legal protection by lawsuits specifically aimed at developers of peer-to-peer networks (Kipp, 2003,p.100).

However, the proponents of internet distribution technologies have asserted that MP3 downloads give a fresh style for users to experience music by; making creating wider opportunities for internet music products, file sharing initiative facilitates users to increase albums in which they are interested, hence surging the music sale.

Techniques of Downloading Music Online

Various methods exist in extracting illegal music from the internet. According to Sparrow (2006, p.75), one method is a peer to peer file-sharing. This technology is anchored on the mutual sharing of music by various individual users. It operates by having users willingly install an exclusive file-sharing application on their computers. Once the software is installed, the users start to trade music in a file format of MP3 and AVI files. The system is enhanced when each user shares small quantities of music at intervals. The process commonly referred to as “uploading and downloading” forms the aspect of peer to peer file sharing process (Sparrow, 2006, p.40). Though the files shared are typically large the peer to peer software has the potential of increasing the bandwidth

MP3 is also another type of illegal download practice on the internet. MP3 is often used format for storing audio files and thus, this configuration provides quality audio with less size. The uniqueness of this technology makes it fit for storing huge data and enhances faster downloading (Miller & Jentz, 2009, p.120). MP3 has been embraced in downloading illegal music, movies, and others because of the latter mentioned factors. Many websites have incorporated this feature into their websites thus providing users with options of listening to the music, if interested, then he or she can proceed with downloading.

According to Sparrow (2006, p.38), Illegal internet sites, which encourage MP3 music downloads act against the copyright law, since, the sites allow access to digitally protected songs. Some MP3 sites have different strategies for providing MP3 music downloads. For example, some request for a membership, once a member, a user can have access to unlimited downloads; others provide services on a trial basis, whereas others are free. However, some programs such as Bit Torrent exist and allow multiple and simultaneous downloads of MP3 music and videos.

Laws and Statues Which Make Downloading Music Illegal

Broadband technology has encouraged faster access to the internet to the general public, consequently; this has contributed to the rise of illegal music downloads across the world. In the UK, the Copyright, Design and Patent Act (CDPA) ratified in 1988, still exists in curbing illegal download of the music (Mazziotti, 2008, p.329). CDPA is a copyright law that allows creators of artistic, dramatic, literary, and musical works to have exclusive rights in devising ways in which their work may be used. The CDPA law covers a broad set of rights, which they contain; copying, public and broadcast production, lending, and renting copies in public domains. By illegally downloading music files over the internet, a user or entity involved is in violation of the copying part of CDPA law (Miller & Jentz, 2009, p.39).

In the United States like other parts of the world, unlawful redistribution, copying, and modification of music are illegal. When individuals download music unlawfully, artists, music technicians, label companies, and music stores lose revenues (Delta & Jeffrey, 2002, p.4 -45). The Recording Industry of America and other experts in the music industry have come out strongly by filing claims against individuals and society have involved in the business. They have also been involved in advocacy to create awareness about the outcomes of downloading music unlawfully. Illegal downloading has encouraged lawsuits and major criminal penalties. The penalties have applied in varying degrees, although the penalty can lead to imprisonment of up to 5 years (Delta & Jeffrey, 2002,p. 15-13).

Passing of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998 by the US congress has brought about some stability in guiding music and internet downloads. The DMCA is an essential statute that oversees music downloads. The law to the general ban the activities linked to cipher cracking information premeditated to sidestep encoding utilities built into the commercial software (Delta & Jeffrey, 2002, p.13 – 17). Other indispensable endowment for the law is limiting the Internet Service Providers responsibility of transferring copyrighted resources without consent.

Laws for downloading music have been violated in several major ways (Parker, 2004). These methods include; file sharing facilities, transferring via a network through a messaging service or email and storing music files online hence allowing them accessible to for others to download. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act and laws used by Recording Industry Association of America have enhanced curbing illegal internet music downloads (Delta & Jeffrey, 2002, p.38).

The method of proving violations has not been complicated. Copyright owners have to verify that a user or someone have accessed their music, as a part in one of the classifications secured by federal law, and thus the file was “substantially alike” to his or her existing work, distributed without their consent or the possibility of showing prior information of criminal download. By carrying out the mentioned aspects without the owner’s consent is linked to resolute copyright breach.

Under the present law, parents can be held liable for what their children’s download from the internet, even if they are personally not involved. This situations lie under the concept of contributory overstepping on copyrights rights (Parker, 2004, p.223). This is because the parents saved some money on each free download, as it is articulated. They do hurt the copyright owner by their mistake of not monitoring what their child does and prevent neglect

Business Cases

China government has instituted a severe punishment to Baidu, the largest search engine in China for providing accessibility to illegal music downloads. The company’s search engine has overtime been censured for offering internet links to trove illegally music downloads compered from other third party hosts. The past lawsuits have been longed against Baidu, but this has resulted in indefinite results. This has been through promoting piracy in MP3 search style (Kan, 2011).

However, a recent company claims that, it will start paying an organization representing artiste for independent music downloaded on their site; this comes years after being criticized for offering links connected to music downloads. Also, Baidu has formed partnership with Music Society of China to uphold the ethics of legitimate digital music ethics. This will make Baidu to liaise with copyright owners after paying some royalties to simplify the process of music acquisition and lawful distribution. According to Kan (2011) the reimbursement will consists of any song downloaded at Baidu’s music search site.

The reimbursement will go directly to China Music Society to facilitate reimbursement of songwriters and not the record holders. Record holders reimbursement will have to be effected under a separate and special agreement. Further, to enhance compliance with the contract and openness, Baidu will allow China Copyright Society with data pertaining to downloads and link a licensed content page on the search extent of their website (Kan, 2011). The changes being implemented by Baido will help comply with legal settings thus leading to more profits in the music industry, which has never happened in China

Napster is another company caught up in illegal internet music downloads. Napster began has an online music sharing service. Napster did not comprehend the peer to peer file sharing with other internet music sharing sites, as the music contents were warehoused on networks servers, which were, centrally located and thus, the actual transfer of music files occurred on user’s machine (Mazziotti, 2008,p.138).

People began embracing Napster service of free music downloads because, they felt that the music industry has applied double standards by publishing a single hit song per CD and filling the remaining album with “filler” songs. Napster users who had already purchased CDs for given songs made them available to other Napster users by file-sharing service, thus; any Napster user could filter and download the exact track he or she needed or the artist liked, in a real sense, Napster users were sharing their music. This sharing by Napster was a violation of copyright law. Copyright is infringed when a person or an organization reproduces that has already been subjected under copyright protection without permission (Mazziotti, 2008, p.5).

The users who were the recipients of the shared music files were contravening the copyright protection of record label companies and the artiste. Thus, the music industry directed copyright violation claims against Napster in 2001. Napster was found guilty of contravening copyright rights because it contributed to illegal internet music downloading. A good example of Napster contravening the copyright act is the case of Metallica Band. The Mettalica Band prosecuted more than 3, 2000 of its fans. This was because; they had violated the contents anchored in Digital Millennium Copyright Deed (Murphy, 2000). Subsequently, these fans had their accounts with Napster terminated for fear of legal act. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of the court with Napster asserting to offset the artist whose music was illegally downloaded from its websites.

It is interesting to note that, in examining sales and marketing data available at RIAA, the significant decline in the sale of CDs started in intensely when Napster stopped operating. During the two and half years that Napster existed, the sale of CDS had surged exponentially than in previous years, but since 2001, as a result of its closure, the sale of CDs have gradually decreased (Spellman, 2002,p.x).

Combating Illegal Downloads

The music industry has been on the lead in ensuring that, any attempts in illegally downloading music from internet sources fulfills legal requirements. This is to ensure sustainability of the industry is upheld, and protection of artist and label companies is adhered to (Miller & Jentz, 2009, p. 120). One strategy in place is enhancing digital downloads via accredited online services. One major successfully approach has been Apple, Inc.’s iTunes music house. At present, iTunes have sold volumes of songs across the globe at a cost of ninety nine cents per song (Spellman, 2002, p.35).

However, the RIAA, a body in charge of recording industries has created a barrier to this initiative. It has failed to recognize genuine customers and thus, it has termed them as thieves, thus the paying customers have abandoned the iTunes music store with various weaknesses. For instance, the subject of Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a primary responsibility for several customers. DRM limits a consumer’s capacity to play the music they have purchased via the iTunes music store on a different platform such as; iPhone or iPod (Miller & Jentz, 2009, p.64). Though this proves of value to Apple, it is infuriating to consumers because, they can only listen to the music purchased on restricted types of computers and other devices (Miller & Jentz, 2009, p.64).

Another strategy in the offing is web blocking. United Kingdom has been advocating for this measure to block alleged file sharing internet sites and putting them behind the internet firewall (Kipp, 2003). Two proposals have been made. The first one is involving the Internet Watch Foundation, an organization which asses the illegal contents, scenes or images, child sexual exploitation located in the UK. The organization will be involved in handling illicit file handling.

Also, the internet rights holders and Internet service providers have favored the use of “a voluntary code. The code will oversee how and which file-sharing websites have been censored (Kipp, 2003, p.94). However, opponents of these options argue that, it will be too expensive and time wastage to implement.


The challenge posed by illegal internet music downloading has been enormous. It has contributed to artiste and music industry losing revenue thus affecting its growth and productivity. Lack of streamlined laws and regulation to thwart this challenge by most countries has allowed the problem to persist. However, United States have been leading in coming up with laws which govern internet music downloads. Specifically, the UK enacted the Copyright, Design and Patent Act (CDPA) in 1988, this law has played an important role to date to contain internet music downloads. Additionally, United States, unlawful redistribution, copying and modification of music is illegal. The Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998. This law has contributed to reducing illegal music downloads across the United States. Baidua and Napster companies have been greatly been engulfed with legal battles by infringing copyright rights. This has been through allowing users to download free music from their websites or having links which connect them to download sites.

However, the policy makers and the music industry stakeholders are devising more stringed strategies to make it hard for the practice to occur. A strategy such as enhancing digital downloads via accredited online services is being encouraged.


Delta, G. B., & Jeffrey H. M., 2002. Law of the Internet. New York: Aspen Publishers Online.

Kan, M., 2011. China’s Baidu to Compensate Songwriters for Music Downloads. Web.

Kipp, S., 2003. Broadband Entertainment: Digital Audio, Video, and Gaming in Your Home. New York: All Digital Pub.

Mazziotti, G., 2008. EU Digital Copyright Law and the End-User. Wisconsin: Springer.

Murphy, 2000. Are You Violating Copyright Laws When you Use Napster? Web.

Miller, R. L., & Jentz, G.A., 2009. Fundamentals of Business Law: Excerpted Cases. Connecticut: Cengage Learning.

Parker, N., 2004. Music Business: Infrastructure, Practice, and Law. London. Sweet & Maxwell.

Sparrow, A., 2006. Music Distribution and the Internet: A Legal Guide for the Music Business. Aldershot: Gower Publishing, Ltd.

Spellman, P., 2002. The Musician’s Internet: On-Line Strategies for Success in The Music Industry. Wisconsin: Hal Leonard Corporation.

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