Music Copyright FAQ's - MP3's, CD's and More

Music copyright - Can I Copy my Music and CDs?

According to the:
US Copyright Act of 1976
No Electronic Theft Act of 1997
US Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998
Intellectual Property Protection and Courts Amendments Act of 2004

What is a "copyright"?

A copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors and creators of "original works of authorship." This includes literary (like books and magazine articles), dramatic (like screenplays and commercials), musical (like songs and recordings), artistic (like paintings and sculptures), and certain other original creative works.

Copyright law generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the work, distribute copies of that work, perform and/or display the work in public, and if an audio recording, publicly transmit and perform the recording digitally. It also gives the copyright owner the exclusive right to authorize others to do these acts. (Radio stations are allowed to perform musical compositions (i.e., songs) publicly because they have the permission of the music publishers (or their collective representatives, such as ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.)

If you buy a song or album on a CD, can you legally copy it? What are the legal ways you can make copies?

It is generally permissible to make copies of a lawfully purchased CD for your own personal use. This means you can copy that CD onto another CD for your car, for example, or onto a tape for your Walkman. Or, you can make a copy of the CD on your hard drive to play the file via your computer. 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 authorized original CD that you legitimately own and the copy is just for your personal use. Giving away the copy or lending it to others for copying is not a personal use and is not legal.

You have a portable MP3 player. (includes – iPods) If you buy a CD and download it onto your MP3 player, are you breaking the law? What if you download your friend's CD?

It is generally legal to burn or download a CD you bought onto your own MP3 player. Downloading your friend's CD is a different story. It is illegal to download music onto any digital playback devices you own if you have not purchased the music. Giving away the copy or lending it to others for copying is not a personal use and is not legal.

If you buy a song or album online, how can you legally copy it?

Each site has different restrictions on the legal ways to copy the music. As a rule of thumb, once you've bought a song or album online, you often can play that file on your digital media players like an MP3 player, or your computers, or by burning the file to a CD for playback on a CD player or DVD player. However, you generally are only permitted to play this file on your own equipment; you cannot give the file to your friends or family to play on their own devices.

The U.S. government established the Copyright Act in 1976 to protect artists' "original works of authorship." These include music and lyrics, film, literature, software programs, video games, photography, sculpture, architecture, choreographic work, and sound recordings.

Under the law, a work is automatically copyrighted once it is "fixed" (meaning printed or recorded). The artist also can officially register his or her work with the government, which provides certain enhanced remedies and other benefits. In addition, the artist can sell or transfer the copyright to another person or a company to handle ownership of the work. This is often what happens with artists and their publishers and record labels. The artist lets the publisher and record label control the copyright.

Can you download published music from free websites? Can you borrow a CD from the Public Library and then copy it to your computer?

What's the bottom line? It's simple: Swapping and/or sharing music that's been downloaded (without the copyright holders permission) from an unlicensed Peer-2-peer (P2P) Internet site or copied from a Public Library CD and shared with friends violates its copyright and - is against the law.

However there are free sites where songs are available for download but they are usually independent labels or not widely popular tracks. The copyright holders (the record label or artists themselves) allow free downloads in the hopes popularizing their music and as a marketing/advertising tool. More on this soon!

What are the consequences?

Copyright laws got tighter in 1997, when the No Electronic Theft Act, or NET, was passed. Under NET, copyright holders zero in on people who regularly share files online (including music, software, videos, and games), especially those who do so in large quantities and make money on it. For example, when a copyrighted work earns a downloader more than $1,000, he or she can be criminally prosecuted, fined, and sent to jail.

Is That Fair?

There are two minor exceptions to the Copyright Act: "Fair Use" and "public domain." The Fair Use doctrine allows copyrighted works to be reproduced for limited purposes, such as teaching, news reporting, criticism, comment, and research. But beware: Courts have already ruled that downloading and uploading copyrighted music without permission does not fall under "fair use."

A music copyright or any other copyright generally remains valid for 70 years after the author of a work has died. After that, the work falls into the "public domain," and may be freely used by anyone. Remember: Just because a copyrighted work is no longer being reproduced or distributed, it doesn't mean that it's automatically in the "public domain."

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