How do I know what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to copying music?

Here’s the bottom line: If you distribute copyrighted music without authorization from the copyright owner, you are breaking the law (distribution can mean anything from "sharing" music files on the Internet to burning multiple copies of copyrighted music onto blank CD-Rs and selling or giving them to others).

Is it illegal to upload music onto the Internet even if I don’t charge others for it?

Yes, if the music is protected by copyright and you don’t have the copyright holder’s permission. U.S. copyright law prohibits the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted creative work whether or not you charge money for it.

What will happen to me if I get caught illegally copying or distributing copyrighted music?

Under federal law, first-time offenders who commit copyright violations that involve digital recordings can face criminal penalties of as much as five years in prison and/or $250,000 in fines. You could also be sued by the copyright holder in civil court, which could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars more in damages and legal fees.

Is downloading and uploading music really stealing?

Yes, if the person or network you’re downloading from doesn’t have the copyright holder’s permission.

Can I use e-mail or instant messenger services to exchange songs with my friends?

The use of e-mail or instant messaging services to exchange songs is governed by the same copyright laws that apply to any other form of reproduction or distribution.

Am I breaking the law if I upload or download copyrighted music and leave it on my hard drive for less than 24 hours?

Reproducing or distributing copyrighted music without the permission of the copyright holder is against the law regardless of how long you hold on to the music.

What if I upload or download music to or from a server that is based outside of the U.S.?

If you are in the United States, U.S. law applies to you regardless of where the server may be located.