Music download law

It is common knowledge by now that it is against the law to download music if it’s not paid for. Lawyers acting for record labels have brought many claims against file-sharing service providers as well as against individuals who have been caught downloading music – or if it could be proved that this took place.

Most people, however, might not know what rules are being broken and how these rules are enforced.

What is music download law?

Music download law is complex because of its uncertainty - the written law appears to be different to procedure when prosecuting and due to the rapidly evolving nature of technology case law and legislation is constantly changing.

Music download law differs depending on what type of downloading is happening. For example, just making thousands of tracks available for free would be an obvious breach of copyright; however it was thought that peer-to-peer file sharing might be legal.

The court case involving Napster, one of the original file sharing sites, clarified that peer-to-peer file sharing was indeed illegal.

Internet Service Providers are now able to take action against their customers who download media illegally and if you are found to be doing this it is likely that you will:

  • Be sent a warning letter
  • Have your account suspended
  • Have your internet connection terminated

There has been some recent controversy about proposals by the government to slow internet connections of persistent illegal file sharers, or stop their internet connection completely.

How can a lawyer help?

If a person admits that they did download music, lawyers for the claimant (e.g. the record company which owns the copyright for the music downloaded) might argue that the defendant has breached copyright law by:

  • Playing
  • Distributing
  • Copying music without the authority of the copyright holder (the recording label or the artist)

Unlike a patent, copyright is not something that needs to be registered. It is a right which attaches to an original work as soon as it is created. There is therefore little difficulty for the claimant in proving that copyright over the music exists.

If you regularly download music, lawyers that specialise in intellectual property and music related litigation might be able to offer you advice. You should consider the fact that in most cases where the music is paid for there is no illegality involved.

However if you use peer-to-peer file sharing software to download music, lawyers might tell you that your activities are plainly illegal, and that you should stop - though this may depend on:

  • The music you are downloading
  • The original composer
  • When it was created
  • When it was first published

If you fear that you are infringing music download law then you should be aware that you can face repercussions for this. If you put copyrighted material on the internet you should ensure that you have the permission of the owner of the copyright, or you risk infringing copyright and becoming the subject of legal action.

In addition, if you download music or share it with friends, you again risk infringing music download law.

If you believe you may be at risk of prosecution, see our FAQ on downloading and criminal law.

We have award-winning lawyers throughout the UK, ready to assist with your case. Fill in the form and we'll be in touch.

Important information

For [selected AoL] law, solicitors will charge a minimum fee of £250 to provide an initial consultation and written opinion on your case. We have a number of recommended law firms in our network who could provide this service to you at the most competitive price. If you would like to proceed, click ‘Paid advice’ below and one of our advisors will call you on a free-of-charge basis to discuss this further with you.