The Illegal Downloading of Music

Subject: Law
Pages: 15
Words: 3890
Reading time:
14 min
Study level: Undergraduate


The music industry has the dubious distinction of being the digital piracy guinea pig. It is one of the first industries to come face-to-face with the Internet’s ability to undermine the integrity of more conventional distribution channels. The preponderance of downloadable music available online from services such as KaZaa, BearShare, and Morpheus, among others, has given rise to vehement controversy over copyright issues and resulted in a seemingly never-ending series of highly publicized legal battles.

Everything has been affected by technology, and it helps make life more convenient and simpler. The technology of the computer has obviously become vital to humans’ lives. One form of computer technology that has quickly become widespread is known as the internet. According to a public statement from the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) on BBC News, Radio took 30 years to reach an audience of 50 million people, TV took 13 years, but the internet has taken only four years. Now the total net population is about 410 million people worldwide. (Hinduja, 128-135) It serves as a multi-purpose network by using the system called World Wide Web or Hyperlink.

The World Wide Web has divided into websites and WebPages; each one puts together texts, sounds, graphics, and animated images. They are able to provide website-to-website connections by using the method known as electronic links. The internet is built on universal technology and serves every household for many purposes. The internet is really quite easy to understand as it can perform various kinds of functions, for example, connecting people through electronic mails, updating information via search engines, exchanging business transactions via e-commerce or online shopping, and especially in entertainment via online music or online television. Some websites enable the network servers to download music online and this has become a major controversy in terms of copyright law because it is uncertain whether it is legal or not. The online music war has been slowly increased since MP3 technology was invented. This essay will give a brief explanation of music file-transferring technology, explain how the internet affects the entertainment industry and give some demonstrates to prevent online music piracy.

There is clearly a lot at stake as music piracy continues to proliferate online, though financial estimates vary widely. In the courts, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) claimed $150,000 per copyrighted work in damages from for allowing users to download copyright-protected songs. In another highly publicized legal battle, the heavy-metal band Metallica sued Napster for damages of more than $10 million, placing the value at $100,000 for each pirated song. (Schulenberg, 56-68)

RIAA cited online piracy as a major factor when total annual U.S. shipments from record companies dropped more than 10 percent in 2001, representing a dollar value decrease of about $600 million. “When 23 percent of surveyed music consumers say they are not buying more music because they are downloading or copying their music for free, we cannot ignore the impact on the marketplace,” said Hilary Rosen, CEO of the RIAA, in reference to a study conducted by Peter Hart Research Associates. (Hinduja, 128-135)

During the same time period, music sales fell five percent on a global level to $33.7 billion. Though the economy was at least partially to blame, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) attributed much of the drop-off to the proliferation of free music on the Internet. “The industry’s problems reflect no fall in popularity of recorded music. Rather, they reflect the fact that the commercial value of music is being widely devalued by mass copying and piracy,” said Jay Berman, IFPI chairman and CEO.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people claim the net effects are positive, arguing that the increased accessibility of music files is a convenience people will be willing to pay for, which will help drive growth in music sales, both offline and online. Sales of portable digital music players are one indicator of the growing consumer demand for digital music downloads, which could bode well for the future revenue potential of online music subscriptions. (Schulenberg, 56-68) While such optimistic forecasts may eventually prove true, most people are still not paying for the music they download, and organizations with the most at stake have decided not to leave things to chance. Coalitions within the music industry have approached the piracy situation by attempting to control the unauthorized downloading of artists’ works while at the same time partnering with new online distribution channels. (Krasilovsky, 204-212) Some industry leaders have resorted to legal action to eliminate providers that facilitate free music distribution, as seen in the legal suits that arose against Napster and by the major record labels. This may be the only recourse for some intellectual property owners to combat free distribution on peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks.

Web and FTP sites distributing pirated music have offered other possibilities. Music industry associations such as the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) have capitalized on the opportunities afforded by the transfer of music online by aggressively licensing sites on the Internet that offer the music of their members. In so doing, these associations have taken the first steps in positioning themselves to capture a share of the billions of dollars in projected online music revenues.

This proactive licensing approach is similar to how intellectual property owners of market data and text take the offensive online to generate revenue. Historically, the best return on this investment in converting offenders into licensing sales is achieved by focusing on the most highly qualified leads, enabling the association to take action quickly on websites that are the most likely to help them recapture licensing revenues. (Gordon, 99-107) Any site unwilling to be licensed, and any sites that may be undesirable licensees, should be dealt with through legal action to protect copyrights and safeguard legitimate distribution channels.

One way of evaluating whether websites engaged in piracy may be suitable licensees is to estimate how many licensable music files are present and whether music files are sound clips, full-length songs, program files, or streaming files. Site traffic levels can also be valuable in approximating the potential scale of distribution and, in the case of sites that engage in advertising or commerce, how much revenue they might be generating as a result of music distribution.

A site’s ability to pay licensing fees can vary widely and should be considered when applying limited sales resources to pursue large volumes of leads. In addition to assessing a website’s traffic levels, other ways to make a rough evaluation of the sites potential include checking for the presence of advertising or commercial activities and noting the level of professionalism evident in the site design. (Hinduja, 128-135) Larger businesses are better sales targets, so the presence of investor information and other company details can be an indicator of size. Whether the site owns its own domain (as opposed to using personal pages whose root domain is part of a larger community such as AOL or Yahoo!) is another indicator of the commercial potential of the website.

The Transfer of music files

Online music was introduced to consumers many years ago. It brought convenience to music customers who were using devices such as MP3 player, iPod, iriver, etc. It is easy for most people to share music files. All the equipment that is needed to transfer file is solely a computer, the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and file sources; the file sources depend on their software programs such as the Microsoft word is a program provided text sources, the ACD see provides JPEG image sources and the Window media player provides audio file sources. Copying a file from a floppy disk or a CD onto your hard drive is quite simply just following the software instructions. The process involves two steps: file sharing and downloading the program.

File sharing

To begin with the first step, the file sharing; most music files are compressed before they are sent online. The compressing process makes audio data in a smaller size which are usually transferred in the form of MP3 files. Over the last two years there has been a sudden peak in the rise of the MP3 culture; mainly due to the popularity of the Apple’s Ipod series. As a result, the company is constantly updating and adding to their Ipod range. The new MP4 format is being improved and marketed, and the music industry is taking note of the importance and impact of the online music community, charts and purchasing powers. MP3 helps speed of transfer; the smaller the files are the quicker download will be. Gordon defined, ‘MP3 is a coding standard for the compression and storage of audio content. This format allows audio files to be compressed by up to one twelfth of their original size while retaining acceptable sound quality. (99-107) Using bit rates of 64 to 192 kbits/s, audio can run in real-time over the slower broadband connections, including single ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), and can be downloaded over a dial-up modem in a more realistic time – typically two to four times the actual running time. (Krasilovsky, 204-212) This logically means MP3 can be traced online and downloaded swiftly online which makes it so famous. The popular MP3 is an acronym for MPEG layer 3, which is a type of compression for audio format. MPEG stands for Moving Picture Experts Group, which is a working group under the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) that sets the standards for encoding audio and video in digital format. (Hinduja, 128-135) With MP3 technology, people can take less time on their downloading and transferring files.


Music file-transferring technology is an ability to exchange audio files over the internet. It is common to share files in the cyber world. There are many types of software that enable the online transfer to downloaded music files. For example, Napster, Flam, Kazaa, Ares, Imesh, Limewire and Bitorrent are all forms of software also known as

Peer-to-Peer (P2P). These peer-to-peer soft wares can be downloaded from the internet without difficulty. These types of software operate as a tool, providing links to song lists and titles, shared with other software user and once the program is installed, it will connect to the network automatically. With simple instructions; the user is able to explore the list of downloaded music files on the search engine, click on the desire song title and to open the download. It is generally believed that the companies wish to commercialize their website, so the research into ways of improving systems have been undertaken to make it more convenient for the users. (Gordon, 99-107) One disadvantage is that after the songs are downloaded, they go to the sharing file folder and there will be available for other users as the files’ owners upload their files. As a result, this process slows down the connection speed since the software accesses the users’ computer storage.

Online music piracy

Although sharing music files is considered to be one of the ways to promote a music album but the disadvantage side is tremendous. As the result, the peer-to-peer tool has caused a major damage to the music industry. A peer-to-peer network is the technology that allows people to share copy-files between personal computer users in one online community. Peer-to-peer is a decentralized network which allows users to search tracks and transferring tracks between the group members. The firms will receive money in each time of the file has been shared. This kind of network has made a gap in the online music market. (Schulenberg, 56-68)

Not all audio file in peer-to-peer are illegal copies. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) reports the action of using peer-to-peer against the music copyright law is when users keep the MP3 in computer after finishing a trial without the permission of the owner. “…Most users of P2P networks not only download files, but make the music stored in their computer available to others to download, thus acting as uploaders. This turns individual users into large-scale distributors of unauthorized files. The peer-to-peer uploaders do not have permission to distribute music files, hence engaging in an illegal activity”. (Hinduja, 128-135) MP3 has had a significant influence on the culture of music customer. There has been extensive illegal downloading and it has decreased the number of music buyers. The drops in CDs sales were happen not only in the UK marketing but all over the world. The IFPI reports that ‘Infringing music files on P2P networks worldwide is an estimated 760 million, down from January 2004’s 800 million and sharply down on April 2003’s one billion’. (Krasilovsky, 204-212)

Even though the number of infringing music file on P2P is decreasing, the total numbers of illegal music files on the internet are still in high range. Perhaps the main factors are Peer-to-peer provides free online music files; therefore, there is no reason for music consumers to buy CDs, cassettes or other audio products anymore. This has started the online music war between music creators and the illegal peer-to-peer webmasters. Many organizations have been set up to fight music piracy.

The law

Internet companies that offer users free downloads of digital file sharing systems delight music-lovers who have been empowered to obtain their favourite songs for free. However, courts have made it clears that user of these services, who upload and download copyrighted works for free exchange, are violating federal copyright laws. The music industry, represented by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), has recently begun to crack down on all parties involved in this type of copyright infringement, including Internet site operators, Internet service providers, and users who share music files…… A person who downloads and/or uploads copyrighted music directly infringes upon the copyright holder’s exclusive rights of reproduction and distribution. The person can accordingly be held liable for damages in a civil lawsuit… (Gordon, 99-107)

While music piracy has always been a problem, prior to the internet, it was always on a local scale, with a small distribution network. The internet meant that files, information, data, anything could be shared between people right around the world. Copyright laws that existed for the physical medium were simply unable to cope, and weren’t prepared for these rapid changes in technology. (Sparrow, 158-166) Another problem with the internet is the fact that it reaches an audience globally. The creation of an audio encoding standard that allowed for extremely small files with high quality meant that anyone with a copy of a CD could recreate that music and share it on the internet.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act in America provided legal protection to face the new challenges presented by the internet. New copyright protection schemes were introduced onto compact discs which were designed to prevent pirates from stealing music from them. Within a matter of days however, pirates found a way to bypass, or circumvent this copy protection. (Krasilovsky, 204-212) This is where the DMCA provides protection, should a person circumvent the copy protection, then they are guilty under the Act, and can be fined, or even imprisoned. (Hinduja, 128-135) Initially these files could only be shared on web servers, and it was relatively easy for recording industry companies to track down, and shut down these websites. Prior to the advent of Napster, and the start of the peer-to-peer networking phenomenon, there was a limit to the amount of illegal music that could be shared. However, this all changed with the creation of Napster.

A tool that can span the globe with its distribution network is a much more dangerous entity than a single person copying a CD here and there. Napster became a target for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and after a number of court cases was shut down. The structure of Napster, relying on centralized servers, meant that shutting it down was a simple task.

The fact that the internet crosses all national boundaries to reach millions of people means that laws which apply in one country may not exist in another, or simply may be out of date and unable to cope. The international Berne convention for copyrights needs to be updated for the new information order. However, from the ashes of Napster has launched a new wave of peer-to-peer networks that present a new problem for the recording industry. (Schulenberg, 56-68) Previously Napster was the target, however a large number of p2p networks have now appeared, and their number is increasing on a monthly basis.

According to Melanie Warner this new generation of Napsters encompass more than music, and include a range of media files from videos, to movies, documents, and software. Also the decentralized nature of these new networks means that there is no simple way to shut the network down, and it would require users to voluntarily get rid of the software. This presents an extra difficulty in that unlike Napster Incorporated, there is no one group that a company can sue. They can take individual users to court, but it is difficult to trace and track just who the users really are. It is something of a case of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted, however users are still trapped by the fact that to get the music to share across the internet, record companies must keep producing the music, and this is where the companies can wield power. It is in their own interest to keep producing music, and making money from that music, increasingly they need to look at new ways of exploiting the internet phenomenon to their benefit.

Preventing music piracy

One of the main factors that can encourage music piracy downloads are the cost of song prices. It is generally understood that when the rate of legal downloading is reasonable, and there will be less illegal downloads. Moreover, the following are some examples of ideas to prevent download piracy.

The first idea, perhaps an alternative method, could be to make Internet Service Providers charge an extra fee on top of the Internet connection so as to cover in any downloading that could occur. MSN Messenger and any type of chat facilities could build a file detector into their program so when any people were to transfer MP3-type files over the network, they would have to pay a fee or if not the file would not be transferred. (Sparrow, 158-166) The only problem with this situation is that software would have to be designed to ensure the correct fees are paid to; since different artists belong to varying music corporations and companies. A possibility could be by making all the music corporations as one unit and creating a monetary royalty firm and in the recording artist would receive an equally profit from the shares. (Krasilovsky, 204-212) However, disputes could easily arise in the artists. Those that are not as popular would benefit from the same amount, and those artists whose tracks were more frequently exchanged would demand to have more money as their tracks were being circulated more than other artists.

The second way to prevent piracy is similarly to the business strategy of the mobile company; in every MP3 player could have a serial number similar to the SIM-card that is currently used in mobile phones. When people have purchased an MP3 player, free music can be downloaded by using its serial code number for 20 to 30 songs depending on the package of features that has been chosen; for example, the two options could be monthly membership or pay-as-you-go per song. (Marshall, 81-89) To offer convenient services to buyers, music companies construct shop in local areas, for example, Carphone Warehouse is a company whose stores can be seen on every street corner. The phone and music companies could do business together since most of mobile phone hand-sets nowadays can be used as MP3 players. However, the main problem is in the memory storage available in mobile devices limits the capacity that mobile devices can hold. Most mobile devices have a small internal memory. At most, a mobile device can probably hold only four to five MP3’s unless it has an external memory card that allows the user to constantly replace songs with a higher memory capacity.

Finally, the best marketing strategy is though costumer services creating relationships between teenage consumers and companies. In fact, by establishing campaigns and using music artists to be the advertisers are excellent ways to do business because the majority of potential customers of online music tend to be teenagers and it is generally known that their role models are pop stars. Thus, the music artists have a huge influence on music piracy. In addition, music companies may offer students a discount card with attractive promotions for young adults who buy online MP3. An example of the current method to solve these illegal downloads in school area; such as the University of California Los Angeles they use a system called UCLA’s quarantine program to capture infringing music files and track down criminals’ IP addresses on campus. According to the University of California, Los Angeles, the result of this effective restrained program brings satisfaction; as a consequence, the number of students who download illegal music files has decreased. Nevertheless these kinds of restriction still only take place in some education institutes. (Schulenberg, 56-68)


The aim of this essay was to evaluate the effect of online music technology. In summary, even though restrictions have been undertaken, but the problem is not so simple, the prevention of music piracy is still based on the morality of consumers and their habits. With only protections from the committed organizations would not be enough, therefore educated our next generations to respect on the creation of other idea are needed as well as to obey the copyright laws. The government authority should ensure that the restriction will be taken in actions giving a fund to develop anti-piracy technology and provide new law solutions that will protect liberty. The main source of illegal file exchanges online will still remain and this problem will need to be addressed with a long-term solution. The solution of tracking users’ IP addresses and taking them to court is a long-time and expensive process but at the same time, it is the only solution that is working at the moment. Hopefully, it should deter users from download and decrease the number of illegal downloads. Yet, this process cannot stop anyone fully from illegally downloading. This is a problem will be of constant struggle as long as music is available on the Internet.

Unfortunately, while the music and recording industry is coming to grips with web distribution issues, it faces an ongoing battle tackling other environments. Billions of music files are now swapped every month using popular P2P file-trading networks that enable the exchange and download of copyrighted music for free. P2P networks provide a forum for individuals to openly and anonymously share digital files, and it’s proving to be a difficult nut to crack.

Decentralized P2P networks such as Gnutella and FastTrack have gained popularity, effectively turning members’ home computers into network servers. Since these networks have no central point at which the system can be shut down, they pose a more complicated puzzle for rights associations than centralized networks like Napster, whose servers stored an index of available songs.

Works Cited

Gordon Steve. The Future of the Music Business: How to Succeed with the New Digital Technologies. Backbeat Books, 2005: 99-107.

Hinduja Sameer. Music Piracy and Crime Theory (Criminal Justice: Recent Scholarship). LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC, 2005: 128-135.

Krasilovsky M. William, Shemel Sidney, Gross John M, Feinstein Jonathan. This Business of Music, Billboard Books; 10 Edition, 2007: 204-212.

Marshall Lee. Music and Copyright. Routledge; 2 Edition, 2004: 81-89.

Schulenberg Richard. Legal Aspects of the Music Industry. Billboard Books; 2Rev Edition, 2005: 56-68.

Sparrow Andrew. Music Distribution and the Internet: A Legal Guide for the Music Business. Gower Technical Press, 2006: 158-166.