Legalities of MP3s

Ok, so the Napster side of things has been done to death, but I couldn’t find any posts on the question that’s been bothering me… so for this, my first thread, I wanted to pose the question - can it be legal to download copyrighted songs via MP3 under certain circumstances?
Years ago, I spent large chunks of my pocket money on LPs, cassette tapes and later CDs which in many cases I no longer have. This isn’t because I’ve resold them, many gave in to wear and tear, some were stolen, some just plain vanished. If I want to download songs that were on these albums, is it legal for me to do so?
An example is that fantastic three-hit-wonder Australian band, Johnny Diesel and the Injectors. When their album came out, I bought it on cassette. I’d only had it a couple of months when the cassette was chewed up by the cassette player. So I saved up again, but this time I bought it on CD, thinking that a CD was immune to chewing, so it should last a bit longer, but it was not to be. Someone broke into my house and stole it only a couple of months later. I figured that owning that particular recording was just not to be, and I let it go.
Fast forward ten years to now. If (Heaven forbid) I should get nostalgic for such classic Johnny Diesel and the Injectors songs as “Cry In Shame”, and if I should be able to find a copy of it on a system like Napster, would it be legal for me to download it, considering I’ve already paid for the album twice? Would it be legal for me to download MP3s of songs I’ve previously bought but the medium that it was contained on was destroyed? Would it be a different situation if the medium was stolen rather than worn out with age/destroyed by accident?
I hope I’ve posted this in the right place, and I look forward to your responses.

You can legally download an MP3 if and only if the copyright holder has granted permission for you to download that song. is filled with legal MP3s; download all you like from them.

It doesn’t matter if you bought the album; that only gives you the right to own the album, not to make copies. Downloading from Napster is making a copy.

Would it be legal for you to shoplift a CD of an album simply because the LP you previously bought was destroyed? Or if the LP were stolen? Obviously not. It’s the same principle. Your loss of the original doesn’t give you any special dispensation under the law.

But if I shoplifted a copy, I would be taking a physical item that belonged to someone else, thus it would be stealing. MP3s are not physical items, so no one incurs costs in the production and distribution of them (bandwidth, etc aside). If I take a copy of an MP3, the owner still has his copy.

(I should have included this in my original question, no matter, I’ll add it now.) As I understand it, the law makes allowances for making back up copies of software. If the law allows you to make back up copies of your computer software, does it also allow you to take backup copies of things like music and videos? If I buy a CD to listen to at home in my CD player, is it illegal for me to copy it onto a cassette so I can also listen to it in the car in my cassette player? As long as I’m not making copies for other people, I can’t see that they would ban you from transfering the music to another medium for your own personal use. Isn’t that why it’s not illegal to MAKE MP3s, only to distribute them?

Well, i don’t know if it’s “legal” to go and download the song(s), but…

If i were you, i’d do it anyway. I am a musician, and i can tell you if you bought my album twice, i wouldn’t care if you downloaded it all day long. You’ve probably heard this before, but the record companies are the ones really losing money here, not the musicians. On average (and this varies depending on who you are of course), the musicians get about $1 of every copy they sell. The rest goes to all the recording people, the label, the producers, etc. So i’d say the band should appreciate your loyalty/honesty to begin with. But, you’re probably not going to hurt their career much now that it’s over so go download the song already…


If I wrote an article for a magazine you copied it down and signed your name to it, it would be stealing. There would be no physical loss but you’d be stealing.

Face it dude you’re trying to justify stealing.

I used to know someone that would call collect and give a fake name. The caller refused. This was a signal she got home OK. Well you got your message thru without paying for it so it’s stealing.

“Collect call for Mr. Bob Weoddababyeatsaboy”

“sorry, wrong number”

Just reminded me of that, heh…

If downloading MP3s that you previously owned but that were lost/stolen/destroyed is illegal, why is it legal to do the same for game emulators?
Of course it would be illegal to do so for games/albums that you did not ever own, and which the copyright still exists on (the U.S. Code, I believe, dictates that the default period for this is 70 years beyond the author’s death)

A thread was active last week on this issue:
Legality of game emulators

That’s a common rationalization, and the law does not recognize it. The entire purpose of copyright law is to prevent illicit copying; if you don’t have permission to make a copy, you’re breaking the law. Any time you copy something the original is still available.

The fact is that, by copying, you are not buying a copy. If you’re not buying a copy, the copyright holder doesn’t get paid. In addition, there are many ways in which copyright holders can lose out (for instance, a song commonly available for free might not be chosen for an anthology, cosing the writer that sale).

Consider this – someone puts out a CD. Someone else shares it out as MP3s. No one buys the CD, but instead downloads the MP3s. Instead of selling the CDs, the songwriter sells nothing. Are you arguing that doesn’t hurt the songwriter?

Now if the copyright holder agrees with you that you can copy the music – and grants permission, you’re OK. But that’s up to the copyright holder, not you. You can’t be the one to determine how someone else’s property is disposed of, tangible or not.

A lot of people on here have the wrong idea. I’ve heard a few people say that you can’t copy the things you own, and this is false. You have, under fair use, the right to make as many copies of an album that you own. You can rip all of your CDs to MP3, and listen to them on your computer, and you’re well within your rights. If you still own the album, you can download the MP3s of those songs.

You are not allowed to distribute those copies, however. If you couldn’t copy albums you purchased, you couldn’t make mix tapes or CDs. They’d be illegal, and they’re not. The same is true for software; you can copy software to your heart’s content. You can even install the same piece of software on 55 different computers, and it’s legal, as long as you don’t use more than 1 copy at any one time. (i.e. it’s legal to have Office on your desktop at home and your laptop, as long as your son isn’t using the desktop version while you’re out of town using it on your laptop.) If you own the albums, download all you want. If you’ve lost the albums (or they got destroyed)…it’s a gray area and may not be legal, but I doubt you’d get caught, and I personally do not see anything morally wrong with it, but that’s just me.