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Downloading: Legal or Illegal?

Posted By On August 10, 2007 @ 2:43 PM In Multimedia | No Comments

Q:
I always worry about illegal downloading, because I know my grandkids do it all the time and they sometimes do it on my computer. Is there any way you can get sued for this type of thing? And do you have any suggestions on how my grandkids can do this safely, with no harm to anyone? Please help!

A:
Wow, that’s a loaded question! But it’s also a very good one and I’m sure you’re not the only one who has wondered about this very thing before. In the last few years, illegal downloading has become a major part of our society and even though the majority of us still do it, the worrying that comes along with it seems to be stuck in the back of our minds. You know, worries like being sued (as the person who asked today’s question stated) by the entertainment industry, being tracked down and punished for what we’ve done, etc. Either way you look at it, this is very serious business and it’s not to be taken lightly. So, let’s look at what your options are, shall we?!

First of all, when you’re using the Internet, you probably think you’re at least somewhat anonymous, right? Well, that’s just not always the case. With everything available online today, it’s easy to pass your information around without even knowing it. And downloading is one major cause of this. Downloading and sharing files are two of the most popular online activities these days. I mean, with everything from music to movies to games and so on, it’s very easy to get caught up in this kind of traffic.

So, when you’re downloading something, you may not realize who all is watching you. This is especially true if you’re trying to download copyrighted material. Basically, anyone who has a keen interest in protecting copyrights will know if you’re trying to illegally download something. You may not know this, but there are several organizations out there that do just that. Their main purpose is to watch for people who are partaking in illegal downloading. For example, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is a major one when it comes to protecting the rights of recording artists. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and NBC Universal are two others.

These organizations have gone as far as charging all types of people (college students, senior citizens and even the deceased) with software piracy and copyright infringement. They usually start out by demanding payment for the stolen material, but others have gone on to take legal action. So, if you weren’t convinced that you’re being watched before, are you now? It’s a lot easier than you may think to get caught in the act of illegal downloading. It doesn’t matter where you’re getting your material from, there are always watchdogs on the lookout.

Okay, now that we’ve covered all of that, what is legal then? Well, there are a few services online today that are legal to use, but the material you can download from them may still be illegal copies. Some examples of those are LimeWire, Bittorrent and Kazaa. So, if you’re not sure what you’re getting yourself into, here’s a good rule to go by: if a song, a movie, a game, etc. is available for a free download from a Web site you visit, it’s more than likely an illegal copy. If you’re downloading it without the owner’s permission, you’re violating the law and there’s always the chance you’ll be confronted about it.

With that said, it’s best to go with a service that charges you a small fee to download their material instead. Two perfect examples are Napster and iTunes. Both of them have agreements with recording labels, movie producers, etc. and anything you download is 100 percent legal, with no copyright issues. So, unless you know for sure that the material you’re downloading has no copyrights, your best bet is to fork out a little money each month to save you from a potential lawsuit.

You can also keep yourself safe by simply using some common sense. For example, if a song you’re downloading just hit the radio airwaves, chances are, it’s a copyrighted song and it would be illegal for you to own it for free. Or if you’re downloading a hit movie that’s still being shown in the theaters, that’s an illegal act. Just don’t do it! It’s not your material to own and in my opinion, you shouldn’t be able to have it without doing it legally. Now, I know this is one of those situations where you’re thinking, “Oh, something like this won’t ever happen to me,” but let’s all be honest here. You just never know. Keep yourself safe and live with a healthy conscience. That’s all you have to do!

~ Erin


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