Is it legal to download works from peer-to-peer networks and if not, what is the penalty for doing so?
It depends what source you download movies and music from. Downloading movie and music files isn’t in itself illegal. The problem arises because the vast majority of downloading on the Internet is of copyrighted content, which is illegal.
For those who want a very simplified answer that’s easy to understand: No, the vast majority of files—particularly files that people want to download the most, like new music albums and movies—are illegal to download.
Other types of content, such as movie trailers, while under by the same copyright protection as other works, are distributed by their creators with express permission that allows certain parties to redistribute them for free. Most can also be distributed by the general public under an implied license. These can be legally downloaded from peer-to-peer networks as well.
Internet For Beginners
lays out the basics of this answer nicely: “Uploading or downloading works protected by copyright without the authority of the copyright owner is an infringement of the copyright owner's exclusive rights… Anyone found to have infringed a copyrighted work may be liable for statutory damages up to $30,000 for each work infringed and, if willful infringement is proven by the copyright owner, that amount may be increased up to $150,000 for each work infringed. In addition, an infringer of a work may also be liable for the attorney's fees incurred by the copyright owner to enforce his or her rights.”
The US Copyright Office's website digital FAQ
further illuminates the situation:
“Whether or not a particular work is being made available under the authority of the copyright owner is a question of fact. But since any original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium (including a computer file) is protected by federal copyright law upon creation, in the absence of clear information to the contrary, most works may be assumed to be protected by federal copyright law.
Since the files distributed over peer-to-peer networks are primarily copyrighted works, there is a risk of liability for downloading material from these networks. To avoid these risks, there are currently many "authorized" services on the Internet that allow consumers to purchase copyrighted works online, whether music, ebooks, or motion pictures. By purchasing works through authorized services, consumers can avoid the risks of infringement liability and can limit their exposure to other potential risks, e.g., viruses, unexpected material, or spyware.”
If you have a specific file that you’re unsure of whether it’s legal to download or if you generally have questions about what you can and can’t download legally from peer-to-peer programs, feel free to contact us at New Media Rights at (619) 591-8870
for free, pro bono legal assistance.