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Understanding Copyright Infringement

Unauthorized Copying is Against the Law
Copyright law protects the value of creative work. When you make unauthorised copies of someone’s creative work, you are taking something of value from the owner without his or her permission.  Most likely, you’ve seen government warning about unauthorised copying at the beginning of a movie DVD.  Though you may not find these messages on all compact discs or music you’ve downloaded from the Internet, the same laws apply.

Federal law provides severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized reproduction, distribution, rental or digital transmission of copyrighted sound recordings.

What the Law Says and What it Means
Making unauthorised copies of copyrighted music recordings is against the law and may subject you to civil and criminal liability.  A civil law suit could hold you responsible for thousands of dollars in damages. Criminal charges may leave you with a felony record, accompanied by jail time and fines.

You may find this surprising. After all, compact discs may be easily be copied multiple times with inexpensive CD-R burning technology.  Further, when you’re on the Internet, digital information can seem to be as free as air.  Copyright law does in fact provide full protection of sound recordings, whether they exist in the form of physical CD or digital files.  Regardless of the format at issue, the same basic principle applies: music sound recordings may not be copied or distributed without the permission of the owner.

Common Examples of Online Copyright Infringement:

  • You make an MP3 copy of a song because the CD you bought expressly permits you to do so. But then you put your MP3 copy on the Internet, using a file-sharing network, so that millions of other people can download it.
  • Even if you don’t illegally offer recordings to others, you join a file-sharing network and download unauthorized copies of all the copyrighted music you want for free from the computers of other network members.
  • In order to gain access to copyrighted music on the computers of other network members, you pay a fee to join a file-sharing network that isn’t authorized to distribute or make copies of copyrighted music. Then you download unauthorized copies of all the music you want.
  • You transfer copyrighted music using an instant messaging service.
  • You have a computer with a CD burner, which you use to burn copies of music you have downloaded onto writable CDs for all of your friends.
  • Somebody you don’t even know e-mails you a copy of a copyrighted song and then you turn around and e-mail copies to all of your friends.

Do The Crime, Do The Time
If you do not have legal permission, and you go ahead and copy or distribute copyrighted music anyway, you can be prosecuted in criminal court and/or sued for damages in civil court.

If you make digital copies of copyrighted music on your computer available to anyone through the Internet without the permission of the copyright holder, you’re stealing. And if you allow a P2P file-sharing network to use part of your computer’s hard drive to store copyrighted recordings that anyone can access and download, you’re on the wrong side of the law.

Having the hardware to make unauthorised music recordings doesn’t give you the right to steal. Music has value for the artist and for everyone who works in the industry.

When It Comes to Copying Music, What’s Okay… And What’s Not:
Technology has made digital copying easier than ever. But just because advances in technology make it possible to copy music doesn’t mean it’s legal to do so. Here are tips on how to enjoy the music while respecting rights of others in the digital world. Stick with these, and you’ll be doing right by the people who created the music.

Internet Copying

  • It’s okay to download music from sites authorised by the owners of the copyrighted music, whether or not such sites charge a fee.
  • It’s never okay to download unauthorised music from pirate sites or peer-to-peer systems. Examples of peer-to-peer systems making unauthorised music available for download include: Ares, BitTorrent, Gnutella, Limewire and Morpheus.
  • It’s never okay to make unauthorised copies of music available to others (that is, uploading music) on peer-to-peer systems.

Copying CDs

  • It’s okay to copy music onto an analogue cassette, but not for commercial purposes.
  • It’s also okay to copy music onto special Audio CD-R’s, mini-discs, and digital tapes (because royalties have been paid on them) – but, again, not for commercial purposes.
  • Beyond that, there’s no legal “right” to copy the copyrighted music on a CD onto a CD-R. However, burning a copy of CD onto a CD-R, or transferring a copy onto your computer hard drive or your portable music player, won’t usually raise concerns so long as:
    • The copy is made from an authorised original CD that you legitimately own
    • The copy is just for your personal use. It’s not a personal use – in fact, it’s illegal to give away the copy or lend it to others for copying.
  • The owners of copyrighted music have the right to use protection technology to allow or prevent copying.
  • Remember, it’s never okay to sell or make commercial use of a copy that you make.

Are there occasionally exceptions to these rules? Sure. A “garage” or unsigned band might want you to download its own music; but bands that own their own music are free to make it available legally by licensing it. And, remember that there are lots of authorised sites where music can be downloaded for free. Better to be safe than sorry – don’t assume that downloading or burning is legal just because technology makes it possible.

Enjoy the music. By doing the right thing, you’ll be doing your part to make sure that the music keeps coming.




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