With the outburst of computer technology, computer users have found ways to compress and transform music media into small, transferable digital computer files called MP3s. However, when these files are made available online for copying and distribution, the copyrights protecting those works are often violated.

How Do Copyright Laws Apply to MP3's?

Copyright laws protect musical works, such as those found on audio compact discs (CD's), from being reproduced and distributed without the copyright owner's permission. In the context of MP3's these works of authorship most often include:

  • musical works, including any accompanying words
  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • sound recordings

A computer user violates a copyright if he:

  • reproduces the copyrighted work
  • prepares derivative works based upon the copyrighted work
  • distributes copies of the copyrighted work to others

MP3s have been deemed reproductions of copyrighted work and are violations of a copyright unless their use is fair use. Distributing MP3s also violates a copyright.

What Are the Different Kinds of Infringement?

  • Direct Infringers - Direct infringers are people who directly violate one of the copyright owner's rights. In the context of MP3s, a person directly infringes on a copyright when he downloads an MP3 containing a song off of the internet from someone who was not authorized to distribute or reproduce that song by the copyright holder. A person who does not have permission to make an MP3 available on the internet can also be guilty of direct copyright infringement if he uploads it to a website. Additionally, a person may be guilty of copyright infringement if he makes a copy of the MP3 file and gives either the copy file or the original file to another person. Intent or knowledge is not an element of infringement. Thus, an innocent infringer can be held liable. However, innocence does play a part in assessing liability.
  • Contributory Infringers - Contributory infringers are people who help direct infringers to violate one of the copyright holders' rights. So contributory infringement only exists when there is also a case of direct infringement.
  • Vicarious Infringers - A person will be liable for vicarious infringement if he has the right and ability to supervise infringing activity and also has a direct financial interest in the infringing activity.

Should I Consult a Lawyer about My Copyright Issue?

If you are accused of copyright infringement, an intellectual property lawyer can discuss any defenses you may have available to you. If you wish to protect your work, an intellectual property lawyer can participate in on-going research to make certain no one else is using your copyright without your permission.