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Free MP3 Downloads

Know how the law works before downloading too many free MP3s.

Free music downloads are available through promotions. [© Jupiter Images, 2009]
© Jupiter Images, 2009
Free music downloads are available through promotions.

There are a number of ways to get free MP3 downloads. While the most popular types of MP3 files are music files, any digital audio file compressed into an MPEG file is considered an MP3. These files can be downloaded to computers, to portable MP3 player devices like iPods or to Web sites. MP3 files are associated with music files, but often store other types of audio files such as copies of lectures or audio books.

Web sites that offer free audio downloads should follow industry guidelines regarding copyrights, but it is important for consumers to understand the legal issues surrounding MP3 downloads. It is also helpful to know what types of resources are available with regards to working with MP3 downloads.

Downloading Free MP3 Files

Regardless of what type of information in on the file, the process for downloading MP3 files is fairly universal. Most Web sites provide a link that allows consumers to save the file directly to a computer's hard drive. From the hard drive, the file can be transferred to a portable MP3 player. In some cases, the file may need to be renamed using the correct extension in order to open properly.

Web sites that offer free MP3 downloads should be aware that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) will investigate their files to ensure copyrights are not being violated. Consumers should investigate a site's policy and should only feel confident in downloading files from sites that demonstrate a knowledge of and respect for the law.

Legal Issues with Free MP3 Downloads

While many Web sites provide free MP3 downloads, there are legal conditions to downloading files for free. Piracy occurs when a download of a music file violates copyright law. The RIAA reports that the Institute for Policy Innovation conducted an analysis to determine the damage caused by piracy. The study found that the Piracy incurs $12.5 billion in economic losses each year. With figures like this increasing, it's easy to see why companies are willing to pursue and prosecute companies and individuals who commit acts of piracy.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the RIAA has sued more than 28,000 people for illegal file sharing. Several of the lawsuits focused on manufacturers of the technology that allowed people to download the files in the first place, including companies like Napster, Amster, AudioGalaxy and more. Other organizations like the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) also work with the RIAA to seek compensation for illegal downloads.

Most of the legal issues surrounding MP3 file downloads revolve around copyright of the work. Therefore, consumers who want to take precautions to ensure that free MP3 downloads comply with RIAA standards, as well as other industry organizations' standards, should research the files' copyright information before downloading. Many artists choose to use a license from a corporation called Creative Commons, which is designed to protect the copyright while giving permission for fans to share and distribute work. Likewise, a work protected under an Open Audio License can also be shared. So copyright information that shows either a Creative Commons license or Open Audio License generally indicates that the MP3 download is legal. Individuals might prefer to download only from Web sites listed by the RIAA. However, some of these companies charge for MP3 downloads.

Consequences for Illegal Free MP3 Downloads

Facing an RIAA lawsuit is one of the consequences of downloading MP3 files illegally. It does not matter to the RIAA whether an individual intended to illegally download a file. Even if the person was not aware that the download was illegal, the RIAA can prosecute. However, CNET reports that the RIAA is unlikely prosecute anyone who downloads less than 1,000 files. Aside from an RIAA lawsuit, the owner of the copyright might also decide to sue an individual for illegally copying and distributing work. Any lawsuit will require the defendant to pay some type of legal fee, which may or may not be covered by the suing person or company if the defendant wins the lawsuit. Plus, if a judge rules in favor of the artist or organization, the defendant will also have to pay the imposed fine, which can be thousands of dollars.

Resources for Free MP3 Downloads

For consumers new to using MP3 downloads, it may be beneficial to consult online resources such as MPEG.org which provides resources specific to the MP3 file format, including technical resources and test bit streams. MP3 forums, blogs and tutorials also offer general information and resources on the topic.

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