With the popularity of portable audio players, interest in free music downloads is understandably high. While some newer artists welcome free music downloads, more often than not established artists do not give their music away. Free downloads on the Internet are therefore normally relegated to artists looking for exposure. The primary method used to acquire free music downloads of well-known artists is via peer-to-peer (P2P) network sharing programs. However, there is a legal catch.
Peer-to-peer programs allow users to connect to each other creating a network of hundreds of thousands of participants. Using the provided software, users search other computers for songs of choice and download them at will. When downloading a song, a user is actually downloading it from one or more other users, not from a company that supplies the song. The more users supplying the song, the faster the download. Since this method allows participants to download anything that other users are sharing, it is a highly effective way of expanding ones music collection for free. Unfortunately, this method is often used to get free music downloads illegally.
The vast majority of songs downloaded are the property of artists who have not agreed to offer their legally protected music for free. The artist receives no compensation for free music downloads, and many, if not most artists and labels view P2P sharing as tantamount to stealing. It is no surprise then, that P2P free music downloads have created a legal uproar.
In November of 1997, the No Electronic Theft Act was passed. This act criminalizes illegal downloads even in cases where there is no financial gain. Since then, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has aggressively sought to prosecute many individuals found guilty of file sharing.
Free music downloads have been widely disputed on both sides. Downloading an artist's work on P2P networks without consent of the artist or label can result in monetary damages or jail time. While file sharing networks are free, each user must decide whether he or she wants to risk these consequences in order to download many of today's popular songs for free.