Copyright Information for Students and Educators

We provide this information about music downloading, sharing and copyright laws to better inform students and educators at colleges and universities. This background information is provided to help the music community to thrive so it can support new artists for current and future generations of music lovers.

For Students

College students are some of the world’s most devoted music fans. The habits you pick up now will likely remain throughout your life. Therefore, it’s important that you know how to enjoy music legally and responsibly while supporting your favorite artists. Music theft and the loss of important revenue don’t just hurt music labels. It also hurts artists, unsigned bands and music fans. When a company experiences a loss of income, they’re forced to lay off employees, drop artists from its roster, and sign fewer new bands. This hurts not just the industry, but also anyone who enjoys listening to music. Everyone benefits from a healthy music industry that can nurture new talent and the next generation of promising bands.

Music Services – Legal Music Streaming and Legal Music Downloading

So, what can you do to support established and up-and-coming artists? In today’s vast online music galaxy, there are nearly 100 places where you can stream, download and purchase music. Whether you’re a vinyl aficionado or you prefer to stream songs online, this gives music lovers plenty of options. However, it can be difficult to figure out which platforms that offer music adequately compensate the artists for their work and which don’t. Why Music Matters provides a lot of information about legitimate services where you can listen to online radio stations, download music, find CD and vinyl retailers and stream your favorite songs. Some of these music platforms have both free and paid versions. Some of the more popular platforms are Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Pandora, YouTube, SoundCloud, Deezer, and Tidal.

For Educators

Educational institutions play an important role in shaping students’ attitudes toward copyright laws and artists’ rights. By adopting and enforcing acceptable use policies and providing access to inexpensive legal alternatives to music theft, colleges and universities can reduce their operating costs, improve efficiency and reduce their exposure to computer viruses by securing their networks. Visit for a comprehensive list of authorized music services nationwide.


What is the music industry’s official stance on digital music piracy?

Known simply as “piracy,” music theft has a negative effect on the many individuals that make up the music business, who work behind the scenes to create and distribute music to you, the listener. Those who are adversely affected by music piracy include songwriters and recording artists, producers and audio engineers, computer technicians, marketing professionals, talent scouts, publishers and many others. Piracy threatens the future of music since it deprives the industry of the financial resources it needs to discover and nurture new talent. It also takes away tax revenue from communities across the U.S.

It might not seem like a serious crime to download one song, but millions of songs are downloaded illegally, and this has a cumulative and devastating impact—with no compensation to those who helped create and distribute that song to the public.

Authorized downloading is simple and inexpensive. There are hundreds of digital partners licensed by music companies that offer both download and subscription services. You can discover the many different services offered (and their payment models) at

How much revenue does the music industry lose due to piracy?

There are two classifications of piracy to consider: street piracy—manufacturing and selling counterfeit CDs—and online piracy.

The Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) found that U.S.-based and global piracy cost the U.S. economy $12.5 billion annually, in addition to the loss of 71,060 American jobs, $2.7 billion lost earnings, $422 million lost tax revenues, $291 million of personal income tax and $131 million of lost corporate earnings and production taxes.

Calculating the losses from online piracy is complicated; however, it is common knowledge that the market for pirated music is far greater than the legal market. When piracy occurs, investment in new music is curtailed.

Although the music industry is immeasurable in its cultural, economic and personal impact, compared to other businesses, it is relatively small. This type of theft, therefore, has a devastating impact on future operations. Thousands of employees have lost their jobs at the nation’s largest music companies. Artist rosters have been greatly reduced. A successful partnership between a superstar and their music label, and the revenue that comes from it, finances future investments in new artists—to discover, develop and promote promising talent. If you take away that flow of revenue and investment, music labels are less able to bring the next generation of artists into the marketplace. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for an aspiring artist to pursue a full-time professional career in music.

How does the RIAA work with colleges and universities to encourage the legal acquisition of music?

The RIAA uses several methods to encourage students to enjoy their music legally. Working with universities and colleges, they offer educational programs, participate in speaker forums, and have been involved with the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities. Part of this has meant sending copyright infringement notices when illegal filesharing activity on campus networks has been detected.

Educational institutions have, for years, forwarded copyright notices sent by the RIAA to their students. Many of these colleges and universities have implemented their own graduated response system, by escalating repeat offender penalties, which may include required copyright law tutorials or judicial sanctions.

Is it still illegal to download music on P2P sites like BitTorrent?

Yes, downloading music from BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer sites remains illegal. These sites are monitored by the RIAA and, if illegal filesharing is detected, notices are sent to internet service providers. They also hold the services themselves responsible for file trafficking. Time and resources are invested to pursue online services that encourage and facilitate illegal music theft.  

Won’t some students continue to illegally download music, even with a response system?

Realistically, yes. The music industry has lived with street piracy for many years, and there will always be some level of internet piracy. The RIAA and industry partners have banded together to try to bring piracy to a manageable level so that the legitimate marketplace can thrive.

In addition to enforcing the rights of artists and their labels against those who steal music, the RIAA works to educate consumers about copyright law and the many authorized places where they can stream and download music. The best way to discourage piracy is to give music fans legal alternatives, so record companies aggressively license their recordings to many entities, from download and subscription services to mobile apps and online radio—and this idea drives the RIAA’s efforts in nearly everything they do.

How does downloading music differ from copying a CD I purchased?

Music companies don’t object if you make a copy of a CD you purchased for your personal use. They want music fans to enjoy music that they legally purchased. But illegally downloading music, ripping music from a stream and copying CDs to give to your friends robs the artists who made that music. They deserve to be compensated for their creative work.

Who decides the cost of a downloaded or streamed song? And who gets that money?

Every authorized music streaming and downloading service has licensing agreements with the record companies. Those agreements set the costs and terms for the music, and the music is shared among the label, music service, artist(s) and others involved in the creation and distribution of the music. In the U.S., there are 43 million songs available to stream or download from more than 70 authorized music services. Visit Why Music Matters to see a list of these authorized services.  

CD burners make it easy to copy music illegally. Why are they still legal?

The issue is not the devices nor the advanced technology. The problem arises when people ignore the rights of copyright owners and use this technology to break the law.

The music industry embraces the technology that lets them distribute their artists’ music to many millions of listeners around the world so that it can be enjoyed. Fans should be able to use devices and technology so it’s easier to listen to music, so long as it’s done responsibly, respectfully and legally.

What is the responsibility of a college or university in stopping file sharing?

The RIAA believes that higher education professionals have a responsibility to acknowledge and address piracy on campus, as well as to take measures to prevent music theft. They believe that administrators should also show leadership by teaching students the value of music and that there are right and wrong ways to obtain and enjoy it. Being proactive about campus piracy usually reduces illegal downloading on the school’s networks, making it less likely that students will run afoul of the law.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act, which was enacted in 2010, requires campus facilities to implement a plan that addresses illegal filesharing on their networks. The higher education organization EDUCAUSE publishes school requirements, with example institutions that have taken steps to reduce campus piracy.

Can universities and colleges do anything to address music piracy on its networks?

Many educational institutions use technological anti-piracy tools and see fewer infringement notices. University officials have testified before Congress about the cost-benefit and efficacy of implementing an anti-piracy program and using the available technology. Every school has its own tools and policies; however, technology contributes to the successful outcome.

Off-the-shelf applications can help colleges and universities to define the scope of and control network bandwidth usage and deter unauthorized filesharing. The applications help the schools to maintain the security, integrity and legal use of their institutions’ computer systems without putting student privacy at risk.


“Resources & Learning: For Students & Educators.” Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA),

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