What are the legal issues of downloading music?
With the music downloader being so ubiquitous online, especially the highly popular YouTube MP3 (youtube-mp3.org), it begs the question of whether downloading music, via these apps, is legal. There is still much debate on the issue, and to guide you through this tangled web of legalities we will touch on a few core issues which govern the world of downloading music.
What exactly is a music downloader?
A music downloader could best be described as a website which facilitate the process of creating mp3 downloads and those which convert videos to mp3 from streaming platforms, such as YouTube and SoundCloud. In addition to youtube-mp3.org there are other quality sites such as KeepVid, VidtoMP3, Anything2MP3 and SoundCloud to MP3 Downloader.
The music industry is understandably critical of these sites, as they see this as theft of their material, and are not being properly compensated. The courts have not yet made a ruling on these sites and the services they perform, while the streaming platforms such as YouTube are still on the sidelines, refusing to bring suits against any of these operators
Am I legally exposed if I download material from these sites?
The facilitator (Music Downloader) is not legally liable in these cases, although those that do the downloading are subject to copyright theft of the material they download. According to U.S. copyright law, the owner of the material possesses the exclusive right to the material and that any unauthorized distribution of the material is subject to legal prosecution.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was passed in 1998 by the United States Senate, specifically states that those who are guilty breaking this law can face up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine of $150,000 per act and instructed to pay any legal fees or legal damages.
Music downloaders are not specifically used for illegal downloads as they can be used to download unrestricted music and other materials. These can include, but are not limited to, material whose copyright has expired, royalty free music created under the Creative Commons license, and other material which is deemed appropriate.
The legal action started in the early 2000s when these downloads started to become increasingly popular. Individuals who were downloading from Napster and Kazaa were initially the ones being targeted, but as the music industry faced serious criticism, they decided to turn their attention to the companies and not the individual downloaders.
The Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA) shields both the service providers (e.g. Google) and any other intermediaries from criminal liability for the copyright infringement of the downloads. This law shifts the criminal act to the user and the one who is liable to criminal prosecution. The laws in themselves are almost contradictory and provide a tangled web of legalize which lawyers on the side of the defendants can litigate forever.
In the end, the issue comes down to money, and the artists who create and produce the music, as they feel they are not being fairly compensated for their work. When suing the individual, the cost and time do not warrant legal action as most individuals do not have the money. The real money is with suing the “corporations” as they are the ones who have the deep pockets. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, there has not been a successful case against the defendants, therefore no legal precedent has been set for these suits to begin. Legalities aside, there is ample reason for the two sides to come to a compromise so that everyone benefits and to stop the onerous legal costs of this issue.