All You Need To Know About Getting Music On The Internet

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find music legally?

If you want to make sure you are downloading or streaming music legally, you can use the comprehensive list of licensed sites at There are links to more than 450 sites worldwide that are licensed and respect copyright.

How do I know if what I'm doing on the internet is legal or illegal?

Copyright laws apply to music on the internet just as they do in the physical world. In a nutshell, it is illegal to copy, distribute, publicly perform, or broadcast a protected work or recording, or put it on the internet, if you don't have permission from the relevant owners of rights. This is the case in virtually every country.

Isn't it legal for people to make copies for their own personal use?

This varies from country to country. The laws of many countries – including nearly all countries in Europe - enable people who have bought a legitimate copy of an album or single to make a number of copies of it for personal and private use only. This is completely different from uploading music on to the internet without permission, for potentially millions of other internet users to stream or download. It is virtually always illegal to make copyrighted works available online without permission.

Is it illegal to copy and distribute music even if you're not making money out of it?

Yes, unless you have the authorisation to do so from the owners of rights in the music. The question of whether you are copying for profit may affect what penalties apply, but does not determine whether they are in breach of copyright.

How do you know if a particular piece of music is protected by copyright?

All recordings of music are protected by copyright from the moment of their creation. You may find a copyright or other notice indicating that the music and the recording are protected (e.g. © (P) 2003, Acme Music Publishing LTD; All rights reserved), but these are not necessary. Protection is automatic.

Who actually holds the copyright in a piece of music - artist, record company, composer/publisher or all three?

There are usually a number of rights holders and different rights in any given track. The writers of the music and/or their publishers own authors' rights. The artist who performs that music has certain 'related rights' as a performer. A record label typically owns the copyright or producer's related rights in the particular recording of the music.

Is all file-sharing illegal?

The technology itself is not illegal. However, virtually all file-sharing of popular music done on the internet is illegal, because it involves downloading, copying and distributing copyrighted material without permission.

What are the penalties for breaking the law?

Owners of copyright and related rights regularly take action to remove illegal material from the internet and to seek civil or criminal sanctions against copyright infringers. Civil and criminal lawsuits have been taken and damages awarded against copyright infringers in many countries.

Is there a copyright on all recordings, including those that may no longer be available commercially?

Generally, yes. While some very old songs or recordings may have fallen into the public domain, the vast bulk of popular tracks that appear on the internet are still under copyright protection. If you want to make sure you are downloading or streaming music legally, you can use the comprehensive list of licensed sites at There are links to more than 500 sites worldwide that are licensed and respect copyright.

What if someone uploads or downloads music from a site from a different country than the one they are in, where the law might be different?

These kinds of activities typically involve acts of copying, transmission, or distribution in both countries, so both countries' laws would apply. In many countries, there are international agreements in place allowing court judgments in one country to be enforced in the other.

If someone has bought a legitimate CD, can they do what they like with the music on it?

Making a digital copy of a CD you own for your personal use can generally be done without legal consequences. However, distributing a copy on the internet is different and may result in legal action.

Where can I find out more about the different laws on copying and copyright?

There are various resources including:

What is copyright? FAQs. World Intellectual Property Organisation

Where can I look at various countries' copyright laws? WIPO collection of laws for electronic access.

Where can I find a list of music services that are legal and OK to use? You can find a list of licensed music services here

The information found here does not constitute legal advice. Please consult the laws of your jurisdiction.