With the advent of peer-to-peer music sites like Napster and Limewire, music piracy became something of a cultural phenomenon. All of a sudden, normally law-abiding citizens were willing to, well, break the law, and download songs that they had not paid for. Though this phenomenon has lessened with the introduction of affordable streaming apps, it continues to this day.

What contributes to it? A feeling of anonymity, a lack of enforcement, and, in some cases, a lack of knowledge that downloading music is even illegal.

But that’s the rub: downloading music isn’t always illegal. It all depends on what the copyright holder decides.

Legal Downloading

There are ways to legally download music, some of which bring you a little more variety than the others. We’ll discuss them in detail below.

Using a Paid Service

If you want to legally download music without sacrificing variety, you’re advised to use a paid service. These run the gamut from Spotify to Amazon Music to Apple Music and more.

Though these are primarily used for streaming, they do allow you to download songs and play them offline. The catch is that you must continue paying for the service on a monthly basis. These services can be as little as $4.99 and as much as $20.

Download Songs That You’re Allowed to Download

Some music websites are designed to let their users download their music. As such, they enable you to download music without punishment.

These sites include but aren’t limited to Soundcloud, ReverbNation, and Free Music Archive. The problem with these sites is that they lack variety. Much of their music libraries consist of amateur music.

Though they do provide some music produced by big artists, most big artists’ music is not available. So, for most music aficionados, these aren’t going to get the job done.

Forms of Illegal Downloading

You might think of illegal downloading in a particular sort of way, and ignore other forms of downloading that are also, in fact, illegal. So, to give you a solid knowledge base, we’re going to discuss the most prominent forms of illegal downloading below.

Peer-to-Peer Sharing

The most popular form of illegal downloading is peer-to-peer sharing. This was the type of downloading facilitated by sites like Napster and Limewire. These days, it’s often facilitated by way of torrents.

If you’re going to sketchy sites to find copyrighted music and then downloading it, you are technically breaking the law. So too is the person who shared those music files in the first place.

File Converting

An increasingly common practice is to find music online and then convert it to an MP3 file. This is particularly common on YouTube, which is filled with free music of all kinds.

Though this might seem like a good idea, and though it might seem to skirt the law, in fact, it can get pretty dicey pretty quickly. See, converting a file is not against the law. But the second that converted file is downloaded, the law is, indeed, being broken.

Of course, this doesn’t stop most people from doing it. And if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right. So, learn more about the practice by reading this guide on how to download music.

Punishment for Downloading Music

As was noted above, music piracy isn’t strictly enforced. That said, there is still a risk of being punished for it. And, rest assured, there have been cases in which individuals receive severe sentences.

Technically, those who pirate music are committing copyright infringement. Copyright infringement is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and by fines of up to $250,000.

In addition to these punishments, you could also be sued directly by the copyright holder. If this happens, you could end up having to pay hundreds of thousands (or even millions!) of dollars in damages.

Yes, it’s extremely rare for a person to be prosecuted over music piracy. But it does happen, and you should be prepared.

Some other (non-legal) punishments you could incur include WiFi throttling and suspended internet service. Throttling is the act of slowing one’s internet connection down substantially. It’s designed to annoy the user into not illegal downloading.

There’s also the issue of viruses. Illegal downloading sites tend to be filled with them. So, if you’re trying to download music illegally, there’s a decent chance that your computer will eventually become plagued with Malware.

Protecting Yourself

If you don’t care about the effects of music piracy or piracy in the music industry in general, illegal downloading might be an option for you. There are ways to reduce your risk of being caught. Namely, you can download a VPN or virtual private network.

This will alter your IP address to make it appear as if you’re somewhere else. For instance, if you’re in Minnesota, your VPN could make it appear as though you’re in China.

The key here is to use a high-quality VPN. The problem is that high-quality VPNs cost money (anywhere from $3 to $20 a month). So, if you really want to go undetected, it’s going to cost you.

In addition, you should use an anti-virus program. This won’t eliminate viruses entirely but will help reduce the risk of them.

Music Piracy Is a Sometimes-Cruel Mistress

By and large, you can get away with music piracy. It’s rare that anyone is ever prosecuted for it. But if you are, you could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars and might even have to do some prison time.

So, before you use that music downloader, do your due diligence. Find a good VPN and hide your location. Or, just download a paid streaming service and put all worry to rest. The choice is yours.

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