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3.3. Obtaining MP3 Files

Before you begin building up your MP3 collection, it's important to understand the basic legal issues behind the distribution of what is the intellectual and creative property of artists and the recording industry. As with most technologies, MP3 has both legal and illegal applications. Despite the excitement surrounding the prospect of the public undercutting the traditional distribution mechanisms of the recording industry, and no matter how you might feel about the moral rectitude of the profit-mongering of these traditional music supply chains, the mere fact of an MP3 being available to you does not automatically make it legal to help yourself. It's easy to steal candy bars, and you may feel they're too high-priced, but that fact doesn't make it legal to steal. Keep these points in mind as you begin to build up your collection:

  • For the same reason that it's legal to make backup copies of software that you've purchased (so you still have access to it in case the physical media is damaged), it's perfectly legal to create and listen to MP3 copies of music that you've purchased. It is not, however, legal to make these copies available to other people via the Internet, through portable devices, or on any other storage media. You bought the rights to own a copy of that music—you didn't buy the rights for the rest of the world to own a copy as well.

  • Many artists and record companies make their music available for download from the Internet (either for free or for a small fee) as a way to promote themselves. There are many sites that legitimately distribute hundreds or thousands of these tracks, and it's perfectly legal to download and listen to them. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Joes make their MP3 collections available over the Internet for other people to download. It is illegal for them to do this, and it's illegal for you to download and come into possession of these tracks. If you're in doubt about whether music you're about to download is being legally distributed or not, poke around on the site in question looking for the fine print. If the site is distributing legal music, it will say so, or will be clearly endorsed by the artist or the label. Sites distributing music illegally will generally say nothing, or may even be brazen about their illegality.


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