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What are the Consequences for Illegal Music Downloading?

By Felicia Dye
Updated: May 16, 2024

Illegal music downloading can carry penalties that far outweigh the value of the goods. Depending on the jurisdiction and the circumstances of the case, a person may be incarcerated. She may also experience heavy financial obligations in the form of fines and civil damages. Many higher learning facilities have developed policies for dealing with students who are convicted of downloading music illegally.

It is important for people to realize that illegal music downloading is not only wrong but is also a criminal offense in some jurisdictions. This means that if a person is found guilty in those places, the offense can be listed on her criminal record. In some cases, this offense may even be a felony. As a result, it is possible that the criminal record that stems from these activities may affect a person’s life in various ways for a long time.

There are several ways that illegal music downloading can result in a heavy financial burden. To begin with, conviction may be accompanied by fines that are far greater than the purchase price of the music that is acquired. The guilty party may also face civil lawsuits.

In the United States, for example, the Copyright Office says, “Anyone found to have infringed a copyrighted work may be liable for statutory damages up to $30,000 US Dollars (USD) for each work infringed and, if willful infringement is proven by the copyright owner, that amount may be increased up to $150,000 USD for each work infringed.” In the case of illegal music downloading, a work will generally refer to a single song. As many people who download music are likely to get more than a single song, it is easy to see how the damages can become very expensive. In addition to that, the guilty party may also be held responsible for the attorney’s fees of the parties whose music was illegally downloaded.

Some people are subject to consequences besides those that are financial. In some jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, illegal music downloading can lead to incarceration. Sentences vary, but there is often the potential to be ordered to serve several years.

Furthermore, many students risk jeopardizing their educational careers and therefore may also be jeopardizing their futures. Some educational facilities have developed policies for dealing with students who are convicted of illegal downloading. These policies, like the laws in various jurisdictions, may vary. In some cases, the students may be warned for a rather mild first offense. If caught a second time, they may be put out of school.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By angelBraids — On May 19, 2011

I do feel for the artists who are the biggest losers from all of this. I have less sympathy for the record companies, who often pursue individuals through the legal system, costing themselves thousands of dollars in the process.

My personal studies of illegal music downloading facts indicate that most people sued end up settling out of court for a tiny percentage of what the company asked for. They just don't have the cash to pay more and the labels want to make examples of them and scare off others in the process.

I would like to see them investing this money in the talented folk who write, play and produce music.

By Windchime — On May 19, 2011

@Acracadabra - I see your point but I think the responsibility has to lie with both the original person to share the music and those who choose to take advantage.

It would be pretty time consuming and difficult to prove intent or ignorance in both cases. Not being aware of copyright laws isn't really any excuse.

There are hundreds of free legal music downloads sites online, and if you want something else there are reasonably priced music stores too.

Until people realize that taking copyrighted music from the Internet is as bad as walking out of a store with a CD you didn't pay for, artists and their companies are going to keep losing out big time.

By Acracadabra — On May 18, 2011

@Catapult - I wonder if they were warned first, even by some kind of sign on the computers. I know it is not the right thing to do but there are so many free music download sites out there, and I'm sure a lot of people don't realize that free doesn't mean you can just take it.

I think the people who offer free illegal music downloads should be targeted for punishment, rather than the naive people who often take the rap.

By Catapult — On May 17, 2011

My college started cracking down on people downloading using the school's internet. I don't know if it really discouraged people, but it definitely scared the ones who got caught.

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