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Downloading Music: Legal Issues in Canada and the United States


What isn't so simple about downloading music is the copyright protection laws that people break everyday by downloading some music tracks off the Internet. To make matters even more muddled, some music can be lawfully downloaded, and for those that aren't, laws regarding the sharing and downloading of music on the Internet vary from country to country.
In Canada, for example, downloading copyright music from peer-to-peer networks is legal, but uploading those files is not. Canada has a private copying levy, which grants the right to make personal, noncommercial copies of sound recordings. Canada has imposed levies (fees) on recording mediums like blank CDs and similar items. These levies are used to fund musicians and songwriters for revenues lost  due to consumer copying. For this reason, you do not see huge fines and court cases regarding illegally copied music in Canada, like you see in the U.S.A. Also, Canada initially charged this tax on MP3 players, but a recent Supreme Court decision ruled that the law was written in such a way that these players were exempt from the tax.
The Canadian Conservative government tabled an amendment to the Copyright Bill (C-61) in June of 2008. This bill would have made circumventing all digital locks illegal, and would see statutory damage award of $500 up to up to $20,000 per instance for music downloads, amongst other changes. The government who tabled the bill was defeated before the bill became legislation, however. The Canadian Private Copying Collective is still pursuing the reinstatement of levies on MP3 players in Canada.
In contrast, the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act  is much more strict and deems copying of copyrighted music (with the exception of making a copy for your own use) as illegal. The U.S. Code protects copyright owners from the unauthorized reproduction, adaptation or distribution of sound recordings, as well as certain digital performances to the public. In more general terms, it is considered legal for you to purchase a music CD and record (rip) it to MP3 files for your own use only. Uploading these files via peer-to-peer networks would constitute a breach of the law.
In the United States if you copy or distribute copyrighted music you can be prosecuted in criminal court or sued for damages in civil court. Criminal penalties for first-time offenders can be as high as five years in prison and $250,000 in fines, even if you didn't copy and distribute for financial or commercial gain.

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