Is It Illegal to Download Free Music?

The Confusion Surrounding Music Copyright Law

Because there are so many different ways to get free music off the internet, there has become a lot of confusion and conflicting views as to what is legal and what isn’t.

“OK, so it’s illegal to burn a copy of a CD and distribute it. So are you telling me I can’t burn a mix CD and give it to a few of my friends?”

“It’s illegal to download free songs of peer-to-peer websites and servers, but can I download a song from my friend over Dropbox?”

These types of song copying and distribution leave many feeling that the laws are vague and outdated, so they just continue on downloading music illegally.

The increasingly popular technique of “YouTube to mp3” where you grab the mp3 file from a video someone posted of a song has only added to the problem.

Is that illegal too?

Let’s take a look.

The FBI Warning

You know how when you’re watching a movie on a DVD (for those of us who still do that) and on the screen comes that familiar “FBI WARNING” that tells you the material is copyrighted and it’s illegal to make unauthorized copies of said material of any kind… etc.

Well, despite what some outdated articles might say, this copyright (or internet piracy) law also applies to music.

What does that mean?

Redistribution of any kind, without the artists consent, is illegal. And if you participate by knowingly downloading music that is being distributed without the artist’s consent, you are participating in illegal activity.

This article at IBM compared using these third-party sites just to rip music from YouTube, like “using cassette tapes to record songs of the radio”.

And peer-to-peer servers as well as other websites that don’t even technically host the files on their website, are still participating in this illegal activity, and in the future, copyright companies will continue to be cracking down on this activity.

Are There Other Options?

Yes. You are not without hope. There are so many options. Honestly, with all the options out there it’s amazing how many people are still working so hard to download music for free (OK, there’s not that many). I remember those days, myself.

And I cringe at the thought of having to once again edit the properties of each individual song so that it would be neat and orderly on my iPod.

Never again.

While you do have the option of subscribing to a music streaming service as many have, if you’d like to keep listening to your music very cheaply without an internet connection and you want to actually own the songs you’re listening to, I’d recommend a service like Mp3million, where you can download songs for nickels and dimes. These kinds of sites are legal as long as they are paying royalties on the song licenses. And with that said, hopefully you’ll be on your way to continue your music downloading lifestyle without (too much) interruption.

Royalty Free Music, How Does It Work?

A good music score is essential to your production. Sourcing this music can be quite a headache if you go through the normal copyright clearance channels, and can be expensive. All music recordings are protected by copyright and using this music on your production requires permission from the recording copyright owners, usually large faceless record companies who make up rate cards and play God on the decision to allow you to use well known themes from a major film or the latest pop sensation usually taking many months to reach a decision.

One simple and very cost-effective approach to finding music for your next production is to purchase direct from a Royalty Free Music library. In the past Royalty Free Music has been tarnished with a reputation for low production values, and whilst there still may exist companies churning out ropey cheesy themes which would not sound out of place in some seedy pornographic adventure, however standards have now changed as technology allows composers to produce high quality music

Now Royalty Free music CDs and downloads can match traditional production libraries to such an extent now that the MCPS, who help clear music for DVD and video, have had to alter their rate cards to try and simplify music clearance. Evidence indeed that the MCPS now view Royalty Free Music as a real competitor in the ‘music for visual’ market is now being taken seriously.

So how does royalty free music actually work. It’s really quite simple. The royalty free music company produce and own the copyright enabling therm to license the purchaser the right to dub the music onto their productions. Not just one production, but many. There are no restrictions on territory or number of copies or broadcast. You can use the music for personal or professional projects, massive DVD runs for distribution and sale, TV globally and even on websites. You can use the music for any length and can shorten or extend it. You own the right to use the music for your lifetime. The only restriction enforced is that the purchaser cannot sell the music CD to another user. So you cannot sell the music on ebay. A credit is not demanded, but most producers add one and there’s no better recommendation.

The approach is so different from normal production music libraries. You do not pay per 30 second blocks which can really mount up to a considerable cost. It does not matter how many times you use the music, Previews on royalty free websites take little time and you can quickly pinpoint the track or CD you need and order and receive the CD the next day, or in the case of a download, instantly.

The aim is to cut out all the red tape, form filling and confusing and vague usage restrictions and allow producers to concentrate on the creative process of using good quality music to enhance their productions without the fear of treading on someone’s copyright and at an amazing price. That’s the beauty of simplicity.

As some of the composers involved in Royalty Free Music are PRS/ASCAP members they are entitled to a payment from the broadcaster if the music is used on television. This payment is not the responsibility of the producer of the programme, but the station that broadcasts the music. So even when using royalty free music in a production that is to be broadcast on television you simply go right ahead and use it as normal; even for TV there are no extra fees to pay.

If you want to save hundreds on your budget and still have a quality library of music at your disposable, then maybe you should checkout some Royalty Free Music.

Ten Important Things to Look for in Choosing a Royalty Free Music Website

Looking for some great music for your newest film but don’t have the budget for hiring a composer? You’re in luck because there’s actually a lot of great music out there that is royalty free or in the public domain that may work perfectly for your next film. Whether you’re a pro filmmaker or a novice YouTube video creator, having a quality soundtrack behind your visual masterpiece is going to make a huge difference.

There’s nothing more frustrating than selecting link after link of MPEG or WAV files in search of a good, moody piece of music, only to find some crappy, poorly recorded junk. The good news is, there are a few sites that offer superb songs with quality arrangements that were recorded in a professional studio. These sites have their music categorized by genre to help you weed through the stuff you’re not interested in, so you can get to the gems.

I’ve compiled a list of the key things to look for when choosing a royalty free music website. I believe these suggestions will help you find the music you’re looking for. Keep in mind, most of the time the hardest part of finding good music is sorting through the junk once you’ve found a site. You’ll be looking for sites that offer the best music and are easy to navigate. Also look for sites that are professionally built and equipped with real time players to sample the songs. You’ll want an instant download button to copy the songs directly to your computer. The most important things are finding a site that is safe and that offers their music for free.

Remember, if you are using the music for something other than personal, let’s say uploading a video to YouTube, you will still need to place an attribute on your finished work. In some commercial cases you will need to pay a one-time licensing fee of perhaps 25 or 50 bucks, but that’s it.

Here’s my list of the ten key things to look for in royalty free music websites:

1. Free downloads

Look for sites that offer free downloads of their music. If they’re asking for money up front, move on to the next site.

2. Real time player

A good site will have a built-in music player so you can easily sample a song with one click. You would think this is a no-brainer but you’d be surprised.

3. Easy to navigate pages

You want to look for a site that has their music categorized by genres or music styles.

4. Quality sound

What good are a thousand songs if they all sound like crap? Listen to a few selections and you’ll know right away if the music was recorded in a professional studio or someone’s bathroom.

5. Licensing options

The best sites offer their music to the public for free but for those who want to use the music for YouTube videos or Facebook postings, you’ll need a Creative Commons license. Also a quality site will offer a standard license for filmmakers and other commercial applications.

6. Vocal and non-vocal mixes of each song

Being able to mix up your soundtrack by introducing a recurring theme is a great option. Perhaps you want to start with the instrumental version of a song, then use the vocal version during your film’s closing credits. It’s a classy Hollywood trick used by the best filmmakers. Remember Titanic?

7. Visual Representation for each song

Some sites offer a photo or picture as a representation of how the song is going to ‘feel’. It’s a great tool for quickly perusing through song titles.

8. Limited Quantity

Bigger is not always better. Some sites offer an overwhelming selection of music. Sometimes less is more. Who wants to search through 10,000 songs?

9. Search Feature

Some sites offer a search feature to narrow your results. For instance, you can type in a particular mood or other key characteristic to find the songs that interests you.

10. Custom Music Services

Some sites have music producers for hire who can create a song or entire soundtrack for those movies or commercial projects that want unique and original music.

Talking about originality, how can you know if the song you want has been used many times before? Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing how many thousands of people have used the same song you may want to use. Perhaps it’s better to take the road less traveled and pick from smaller, lesser known websites. There’s plenty of great royalty free music out there if you do a little digging.