Understanding MP3 files

What are MP3 files

For those of you who are unfamiliar with MP3 files, they are audio files recorded in MPEG level 3 encoding standards. MPEG means Moving Picture Expert Group. MP3 audio provides one major advantage over the majority of today's encoding methods. That is, it can store CD quality audio in a relatively small audio file. When recording at 16-bit stereo sound, the average WAV file of a song can be anywhere from 35-50 MB in size. This is too enormous for it to be used for much good. However, by encoding the audio in MP3 file format, a compression ratio of about 11:1 is possible without any degradation of sound quality. This means your average song file will no longer be 35-50 MB, but instead about 3-5MB in size.

This allows these audio files to be used more effectively as they can easily be stored in bulk amounts, or transferred over a network or the Internet. Streaming is also possible for most fast connections and can allow CD quality transmissions over the Internet.

Are MP3s legal?

Yes, MP3 is simply a file format. However, it can be used either legally or illegally. Using an MP3 is legal if the song's copyright holder has granted permission to download and play the song. Also, it is legal to make copies from CDs for personal use, only if you are the original owner of the CD. For example - if you wanted to make a copy to keep in your car.

However, it is illegal to encode MP3s from CDs and trade them without permission from the copyright holder.

RIAA's stance on MP3s

The Record Industry Association of America, RIAA, is a nonprofit organization representing the companies in the record business. They believe MP3s are stealing artists' expressions without their permission.

Citing copyright infringement, the RIAA argues it is unfair to recording artists for people to download music for free, and stated on its Web site that "musicians and labels should be allowed to control the products resulting from their collective creativity and hard work."

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