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What is Music Piracy?

Jeremy Laukkonen
Jeremy Laukkonen

Music piracy typically involves a theft of intellectual property in the form of illegally distributing or obtaining music. In the past, music piracy was limited to the distribution of illegally copied physical media, such as cassette tapes. At one time, there were concerns in the music industry that the ability to easily copy compact cassette tapes at home would damage album sales. Similar concerns were raised much later when advances in computer technology allowed people to encode their albums to digital files. Fast broadband Internet allows these files to be shared via illicit webpages and software, leading to entirely new venues for music piracy.

The argument that sharing music can lead to people discovering new bands and ultimately purchasing more albums was made in regards to compact cassette dubbing to counter record industry fears. Similar arguments have been made in regards to current methods of music piracy, including illegal music downloading. Some record labels and bands have responded by making certain songs or albums freely available, while others have pursued legal action. A variety of high profile media law cases have involved people accused of uploading or downloading music illegally.

Some people have been brought to court for uploading or downloading music illegally.
Some people have been brought to court for uploading or downloading music illegally.

In addition to consumers that illegally share digital music, certain businesses have engaged in music piracy by selling songs and albums without the rights to do so. These businesses sometimes operate in a legal gray area, as they are based in countries that may not recognize international copyright law or the laws of various other nations. Consumers may be participating in music piracy if they purchase songs from such a business, depending on the jurisdiction they live in.

Making unauthorized copies of music for friends is a form of copyright piracy.
Making unauthorized copies of music for friends is a form of copyright piracy.

A number of legal methods to purchase digital music exist, though industry concerns regarding music piracy have led to a variety of digital rights management (DRM) protections. DRM allows restrictions to be placed on music files, such as limiting the number of computers a music file can be played on. Certain digital music stores sell files without any copy protection at all, while others offer DRM-free files at a premium price compared to files that contain DRM.

Music can be illegally copied onto cassette tapes with great ease.
Music can be illegally copied onto cassette tapes with great ease.

Increases in Internet bandwidth have made other types of media piracy possible as well. Illegally downloading entire movies and television shows can be just as easy as obtaining music, depending on the speed of the available Internet connection. Legal methods exist to obtain much of this content through both subscription and advertisement supported services, though viewers in certain countries may find themselves unable to legally use many region-locked websites.

Discussion Comments


The problem is, it isn't only the performing artists who need to make money; it's the songwriters and backing or studio musicians who cannot make a living at all with piracy.

I personally think piracy should be fought. I don't so much mean digital sharing as a whole. I am not saying we should go out and arrest kids for downloading a few songs or sharing with their friends, or that we should help music labels, who can sometimes be oppressive with their artists, keep huge profits. But if there is a website operating and it is selling songs or music downloads at a profit and not paying royalties to the artists and copyright owners, then they should be shut down immediately and prosecuted under copyright law. It really isn't that hard, someone just needs to care. Then others will learn not to do it.

Again, I am emphasizing that those who pirate and then systematically sell music for profit on websites should be prosecuted. No "businessman" has the right to profit for free off of the hard work of others and give them no share of it.


@allenJo - I think technology makes piracy possible and difficult to control. It’s not just the websites that are to blame in this regard; it’s the portable devices themselves in my opinion.

MP3 players boast that they can store thousands of songs. Do these advertisers really expect us to believe that the average person has thousands of songs on their personal CD collection – or that they’re willing to pay for thousands of songs, legally? I don’t think so.

I think they are winking and nodding to the idea that people will illegally download thousands of files to their computer, and what better place to store them than a nifty MP3 player. So I blame MP3 player makers as much as I do the Internet.


Well, I guess that I have a confession to make. In principle I oppose music piracy, but I did download some songs once from a Russian site that offered a “pay per file size” model.

This site claimed to be operating legally, and they would charge you only for the size of the file. They had some computer program that would convert the songs into different file types and charge you mere pennies per file.

The end result is that I wound up with a whole album for something like $3. The site said that they were operating legally and that they had been cleared by the Russian version of the Recording Industry Association.

The last I heard, however, the site had been raided by the Russian authorities and shut down. I guess they weren’t so legal after all. I thought that since I was paying, it must be legal, but I guess not.


When my son was younger and Napster was popular, that was the first time I gave music piracy much thought.

He downloaded a lot of free songs and made a lot of his own CD's from these free songs.

After I read several music piracy articles which told about people who were being sued for doing this I got really nervous.

I could see how easy it would be to track something like this and told him it wasn't worth getting caught just to download some free songs.

The more I thought about it, I realized how wrong it really is. Those musicians should be compensated for their music and if people are pirating their songs, I can see why it would be considered illegal.


I didn't realize the history of music piracy went back to the cassette tape days. As a teenager I remember waiting for a specific song to come on the radio and having my tape recorder ready so I could record it on cassette.

I never sold any of these, but just used them to listen to for my own pleasure.

If I was a musician and made my living selling my music, I would probably have a much stronger stand on music piracy.

I have not ever profited from selling any kind of pirated music, but certainly have downloaded free music and made copies of CD's from time to time.


I am against music piracy, because I am a musician myself. I refuse to copy CDs for friends or download music from a site unaffiliated with the artist.

Having said that, I will admit that I sometimes download free songs that cannot be purchased anywhere. Sometimes, rare recordings or live performances are offered on sites that participate in music piracy, and it's so tempting to own them that I give into temptation and download them.

Is this a bad thing? Am I somehow supporting music piracy by getting my hands on something that cannot be bought elsewhere? I feel conflicted about it, but I usually cave.


Back in the early nineties, I used to get free music downloads. At the time, this was legal, so I didn't feel bad about it. Within just a year or two, though, I had to quit, because the music industry started suing people for using these sites.

My cousin had downloaded hundreds of songs for other people, and she was selling CDs for $10! She got really scared when she heard that the industry was seeking out people who had downloaded tons of songs, and she quit doing it immediately.

I believe it was wrong for her to profit from music that the artist received no money for, and I'm glad that you can't do this anymore legally. All she paid for were the blank CDs, so she made quite a bit off of music piracy.


@kylee07drg - The problem with buying from music stores is that they usually price their CDs higher than you can buy them online. I have paid as much as five dollars more for music in a store than from a website.

Also, you can't buy just individual songs. I would like to give stores my business, but if they don't offer what I want, I can't do it.

I think that the jacking up of prices in music stores is what led to a lot of music piracy. I have personally been guilty of copying some of my friends' CDs and of giving them copies of mine, just because we are kind of poor. I also have made copies of single songs from several CDs and compiled them onto one for my friends.

I am glad that I no longer have to do that, since we can buy a song for 99 cents online. I think that music sites were smart to see the need for cheap songs that still would allow the artist to profit.


If you really want to listen to the music of a band before committing to the purchase of their entire album, the best way to do that is to visit the band's official website. Often, these sites will be playing the album in its entirety, and as long as you have the page open, it will continue to play.

This way, you can pick out certain songs that you like best and purchase those on sites that sell single songs. If you happen to love the whole album, you can buy it. It's a great way to avoid the temptation of online music piracy.

If you live near a music store, I would encourage you to buy your music there. So many of them are going out of business because of the internet, and if you decide to buy an entire CD, you could support them by giving them your business.


@burcidi-- I agree that there is no excuse to take part in music piracy. But I also think that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), who is the main actor in the movement against music piracy can do more to prevent it.

I think that albums cost way too much. If people really felt that they were getting their money's worth when they purchase albums, they would. Clearly that's not the case. So either the value of albums need to increase or their price needs to be lowered. If the RIAA wants music piracy to end, it should first focus on these issues before trying to sue everyone who downloads songs online.


@anamur-- I don't agree with you. My teacher showed us some music piracy statistics last week and if I remember right, he said that the US economy loses something like twelve billion dollars because of music piracy. That's a huge number and we're the hardest hit from music piracy in the whole world.

Not only is the economy losing money because of this, but a lot of people in the music sector are losing their jobs too. I also think that it's a disrespect towards the hard work and effort of all the people who contribute to album making.

I understand that not everyone wants to buy albums, but there are things like iTunes that you can pay a small fee to download mp3s legally. There is no excuse for participating in music piracy.


All of my favorite musician's albums are freely available on many websites soon after the albums are released. Some of these artists have come to terms with this fact and actually make their songs available for download in mp3 format on their websites.

I personally think that this is the right thing to do. It's been quite a few years now since music piracy has been going on and I don't think that it will be possible to prevent it. I don't want artists to suffer financially because of this but I also think that they've pretty much adapted to the situation. Many artists now entirely depend on performances and concerts for their income and know that actual album sales will not be much.

It's just the nature of technological advancement. Despite music piracy laws, people are always going to prefer something free over others. I think it's time to learn to work around it rather than trying to fight it.

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    • Some people have been brought to court for uploading or downloading music illegally.
      By: Kzenon
      Some people have been brought to court for uploading or downloading music illegally.
    • Making unauthorized copies of music for friends is a form of copyright piracy.
      By: Michael Flippo
      Making unauthorized copies of music for friends is a form of copyright piracy.
    • Music can be illegally copied onto cassette tapes with great ease.
      By: muuraa
      Music can be illegally copied onto cassette tapes with great ease.
    • Downloaded music and burning it onto a CD is a form of music piracy.
      By: Alysta
      Downloaded music and burning it onto a CD is a form of music piracy.