How can I obtain MP3s and other digital files legally?

Various sites have complied lists of Web sites and other sources that provide free or cheap legal access to music, movies, and TV shows. Since sites change, this Google search should show the most current results.

Members of the UVM community should be aware that unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject them to civil and criminal liabilities.

Summary of Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws

Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under section 106 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code). These rights include the right to reproduce or distribute a copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority constitutes an infringement.

Penalties for copyright infringement include civil and criminal penalties. In general, anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or "statutory" damages affixed at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed. For "willful" infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed. A court can, in its discretion, also assess costs and attorneys' fees. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504, 505.

Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense.

For more information, visit the U.S. Copyright Office FAQ's.

I'm practically penniless and record labels are rich - why *not* share music illegally?

In a nutshell, it's likely to mess up your computer and waste your time. Fears of lawsuits aside, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing software, like KaZaA, is increasingly causing serious problems for users. The most common effects are inability to go to desired Web sites, unwanted pop-ups, and a very slow computer. Simply removing the sharing software is usually not enough to cure the problems; Spybot and similar tools are often needed to cleanse computers of the "spyware" secretly installed by P2P programs. Solving P2P-related problems is consuming inordinate technical support time — a sad waste of University funds and resources – not to mention the losses suffered by computer owners (that's you!).

Nobody would bother suing me -- would they?

In a word, yes. UVM is legally obligated to comply with properly executed subpoenas when the RIAA or another copyright holder finds anyone on the campus network who they would like to sue for copyright violations.

While the RIAA's lawsuits have grabbed headlines, copyright holders are continuing to file complaints against alleged UVM copyright infringers. These complaints are authorized by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). DMCA requires UVM to disable network access to a computer that is the subject of a complaint, unless the person using the computer removes the offending material.

Here's UVM's policy on Peer-to-Peer file sharing and Copyright Law.