If you’ve received a notice from your internet service provider (ISP) about music copyright infringement, you might not understand what it means and what you should do.
Following are answers to some of the commonly asked questions regarding copyright legal notices. We hope this information is useful and that you can use it to make an informed decision as to what you should do as well as where to find legal music online.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
My ISP says that they have found that my internet account was used to illegally copy and/or distribute copyrighted music. Why was this sent to me and what does it mean?
Music, and the legal rights of artists who create that music, are protected by copyright laws. It is illegal to download or upload music that is unauthorized. This actionable offense is called copyright infringement, even if you don’t make a profit.
People often use “peer-to-peer” (P2P) software on their private computers to illegally copy and distribute copyrighted music. This software lets you share music with computers that are also using that type of software. This software is typically configured so that any files you download, as well as any in the shared folder on your computer, automatically become accessible to other users on the P2P network if they request them.
You may think that you’re anonymous when you upload and download files with this service, but you’re not. Whenever you go online, your computer gets assigned an “internet protocol (IP) address” by your service provider. The IP address is a unique number that identifies you to others on the P2P network as the source of these files. When you receive a notice of infringement, your computer has been identified as being involved in the illegal transfer of copyrighted material. The notice is first sent to your ISP and then forwarded to you, noting the exact infringement and the IP address.
What if I didn’t know I uploaded copyrighted files?
If you installed P2P software on your computer and connected it to the internet, this software automatically enables other computers using similar software to communicate and transfer files. You must delete the P2P software—or, if you have a legitimate use for it, delete all unauthorized files from your shared folder.
What if my computer’s IP address isn’t the same as the one on the notice?
The notice isn’t mistaken. IP addresses change periodically; they’re not permanent. Your ISP keeps track of the IP addresses assigned to your account over time. According to their records, during this time when the IP address was identified as illegally downloading and/or distributing copyrighted music, it was assigned to your account. Even if your account is using a different IP address now, it belonged to you when the infringement happened.
I paid for this P2P file sharing software. Doesn’t this make it legal to use?
Even if you paid for the P2P software, or for technical support, that doesn’t include the authorization or a license to download and share any music you want. The company that sells you this software often states in fine print that the service you just purchased doesn’t authorize the sharing of copyrighted music and other materials, and that using it to share such materials could result in you being sued and subject to damages. They’re happy to take your money but make it clear that you will be the one responsible if caught.
There are many places where you can find your favorite music in high-quality formats—legal, hassle-free and affordable. This includes Amazon, Google Play, Last.FM, Soundcloud, Vimeo Music, PureVolume, Noise Trade, Free Music Archive and Jamendo.
How can I revolve this?
Read the notice carefully to see if there are ISP or educational institution penalties imposed and if you must contact your ISP or school administration about the infringement incident.
In addition, immediately take these steps to prevent further infringement and to prevent serious legal consequences:
- Stop uploading and downloading unauthorized music.
- Permanently delete all infringing music from your computer and any others linked to the account. If a P2P website seems “too good to be legal,” then it probably isn’t.
- If you don’t use the P2P software for a legal purpose, delete it.
- If you use the P2P platform to legally upload or download files that you are authorized to copy and share, make sure that all files in the shared folder can be legally distributed in this way.
- Make sure your internet connection is secure. For example, secure the Wi-Fi network in your home and use virus and spyware protection. This will keep others from going on the internet and downloading or sharing music files using your connection. Learn more about securing your computer at the United States Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency website.
- Speak with friends and family members who may have used your online connection.
By distributing files illegally and violating your ISP’s terms of service, you risk having sanctions imposed. You may also incur civil and possibly even criminal penalties.
Are P2P services risky?
Many of these P2P services are used primarily for copyright infringement. Rather than having a centralized server, they allow files to be downloaded directly from another computer (called a “peer”) on their network. When you download the file from another P2P user, your computer automatically becomes that file’s distributor. You are not anonymous when you use these services, leaving you open to potential legal penalties and sanctions.
But that’s not all. Malicious P2P users can use the network to spread harmful computer viruses, worms and Trojan horses (which are programs that hackers can use to get control of your system). These illegal file transfers expose your personal computer files, which increases the risk of identity theft. Visit the Federal Trade Commission for more information about the importance of computer security.
How do I delete unauthorized music copies on my computer?
If you know the filename, you can use the search function on your computer. Try searching for one word of the title or type in the filename on the notice. You can also search by file types that are used for music (.mp3, .wav, .mp4, .aac, .wma, etc.).
I have never downloaded an illegal music file. Why did I get this infringement notice?
If you’ve checked and found no illegal files, and if you are certain that nobody illegally downloaded music using your system, contact your internet service provider’s technical support staff.
Why is this such a big deal?
Intellectual property companies (music, television, film and computer software) are very important to the economic stability of the U.S. In 2013, the main copyright industries in the U.S. employed 5.5 million people and contributed $1.127 trillion to the GDP. This equals about 6.7% of the country’s economy.
Who bears the cost when music is stolen? It’s the songwriters, singers, musicians, audio engineers, sound technicians, producers, recording studio managers and others in the business that help to create the music we love. These professionals depend on a healthy, robust industry for their jobs and to support their families.
Music theft also impacts music fans globally. Estimates are that one of six albums don’t recover production and marketing costs. If music is regularly stolen and distributed online or as illegal CD copies, it is less likely that investments will be made in high-quality music. As it is with venture capital, one success supports future artists.
Copyright infringement is against the law. It is also getting easier to detect. An infringement violation can negatively affect your internet account, as per your ISP’s terms of service. You might also be served with a lawsuit by copyright owners. In some cases, the infringement might be a violation of federal criminal law. With these serious ramifications, it simply isn’t worth it.
Am I being sued?
No. The notice from your ISP about a copyright infringement complaint isn’t an impending lawsuit. It is a warning that unlawful downloading or distribution has been detected from your computer. You are being put on notice that this activity must stop. If you ignore this warning and continue to illegally download and distribute copyrighted music, then you may be sued for damages due to the infringement.
Can I get the music I want through legal channels?
Yes, you certainly can. The website Why Music Matters, developed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Music Business Association (Music Biz), is a resource that lists many authorized digital music services. More than 30 million songs are available across over 60 authorized digital services in the U.S. This resource is valuable for music fans, so they can know which services are legitimate.
“Resources & Learning: Copyright Infringement Notices.” Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). https://www.riaa.com/resources-learning/copyright-notices/