Define Illegal Downloading

By Gina Poirier

While much of the content on the Internet is free to download, that does not mean that downloading it is legal. Illegal downloading is obtaining files that you do not have the right to use from the Internet. Copyright laws in the United States prohibit Internet users from obtaining copies of media that they do not legally purchase. These laws exist to prevent digital piracy, much of which is conducted through Internet file sharing.

Digital Piracy

Digital piracy involves illegally sharing copyrighted media such as games, music, movies, TV shows and software. It does not matter whether you upload the content to share with others without permission or whether you download it for free or for a bargain price. Anyone involved in this type of operation is breaking the law.

Examples of Piracy

If you are a member of a website that shares music files without permission from the recording labels, you are involved in piracy, even if you pay a fee to the website for downloading them. If you are able to access and download movies, TV shows or movies for free or at extremely low prices, these are usually illegal copies. To avoid downloading media illegally, obtain it from reputable dealers that have the rights to sell it to you.

Ethical Considerations

Although it seems easy to share media files, downloading illegally copied media creates major problems. Producing media costs money; when people copy and share it illegally, the producers lose money. Record and movie studios, artists and other media producers have lost billions of dollars because of digital piracy. When they lose money, it becomes more difficult for them to continue producing quality media for you to enjoy in the future.


Aside from the ethical considerations behind digital piracy, you could face legal consequences if you participate in it. You could, for example, spend up to five years in jail and pay up to $250,000 in fines. You may think that no one will know, but Internet Service Providers track and report users who download files from illegal websites. Furthermore, by accessing and downloading content from illegal websites, you expose your computer and personal information to viruses, malware, spyware and other harmful software.