Legal & illegal downloading

guy with headphones & a laptopEveryone loves music or a good movie. Now that both are available in high-quality digital formats in the Internet, there is the temptation to try to get something for nothing. Internet users should be aware that downloading music, video, or software without paying for it is illegal and can be subject to prosecution.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying your entertainment media in digital form or on a portable device such as an iPod. Furthermore, there is nothing illegal about creating digital files (MP3s) for your personal enjoyment from CDs you have purchased.

What is OK

There are many services on the Internet which provide music and video at a reasonable cost. Some of the more popular services include:

The media you purchase from most of these services comes encoded with some form of DRM (Digital Rights Management) which is how the copyright owners protect their property from piracy.

The type of DRM determines what you can and cannot do with the file. Most DRM systems allow you to copy the files to a portable device for on-the-go listening. Some allow you to "stream" your media to different devices in your home using a wired or wireless network, provided that all devices support that particular type of DRM.

It is OK to make backup copies of software you have bought. Many people opt to make backups and keep the original discs in a safe place, especially for expensive applications or games.

What is not OK

Media purchased online is usually copyrighted and is thus protected by state and federal law. Each type of media has specific do's and don't's in order to protect the copyright holders and keep the end-user in compliance with the law.

With music

Breaking or "cracking" a DRM system in order to remove it from the digital files is illegal. Furthermore, making media you have purchased available on online peer-to-peer (P2P) networks such as LimeWire, Grokster, and KaZaa is highly illegal.

"Sharing" your files with people who have not paid for them or the right to use them can get you in a lot of trouble, both legally and financially. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has, in recent years, brought suits against file sharers who use these P2P networks.

With video

Many popular network TV shows are available online immediately after they air. The neworks who produce these shows make the files available for free or for a small cost through one of the services mentioned above. Remember, just because the content is "free" doesn't mean you can do what you want with it.

The network still retains the copyright and if you distribute the file online in a form or in places not sanctioned by the network, they can sue you for infringement. Furthermore, if they have used any form of DRM you can be prosecuted for circumventing it.

With DVDs

Most DVDs include a similar copy protection called Content Scramble System (CSS). Circumventing this protection is also illegal. Making or distributing copies of DVDs is very illegal and could result in criminal prosecution in addition to a copyright violation lawsuit.

With software

Most software applications and games have their own type of copy protection, generally in the form of a CD key or license key. This key is usually a series of seemingly random letters and numbers which is unique to each copy of the software. Sometimes, however, the software will actually include a small hardware device (such as a USB dongle) which must be attached to your computer for the software to run. Collecting and distributing keys and codes is illegal, as is distributing copies of the original software installation disks.

Also, "cracking" the software copy protection to circumvent the use of these keys is a violation of copyright.

Remember, when you purchase software you are not buying the software itself. You are buying a license, or the right to use it. Therefore the software developer reserves the right to dictate what you can and cannot do with your copy.