Imagine a collection of 2,000 music CDs stored in plastic cases on a bookshelf, reduced to just one slender computer hard drive. Then imagine locating a single song in a haystack of thousands of CD cases, compared to using a quick computer search command. A reduction in storage space and lightning-quick organization are just two of the benefits of legally downloading and storing music in digital form.
There is no such thing as a "free" music download any more. The major music companies have recently begun cracking down on illegal distribution of copyrighted music found on the Internet, and today ordinary people across the U.S. are being prosecuted for downloading and even just possessing "bootleg" music. The risks of downloading illegal music aren't just limited to prosecution, either. Downloading music from peer-to-peer networks (P2P) like Limewire will expose your computer to rampant viral infections. The only place to safely and legally download music over the Internet is through "paid" services like iTunes, e-Music, Wal-Mart Music and Yahoo Music Unlimited.
Download Then Rip
When you purchase a music CD disc you can legally "rip" and then download and store the music to your computer hard drive. "Ripping a song" means using special software to convert music from the CD's original playback format to a format understood by computers, usually the mp3 format. There are free and easy "rip" tools available for download on the web, but be careful, many are virus traps. Only download a ripper from locations like CNET and other sites that have major computer-review endorsements. Ripping takes about 90 seconds per song of normal length. Ripping an entire collection of CDs may be time consuming but worth the effort. The CD cases can be stored out of sight and the music can then be played on many types of playback devices. You can also purchase and download mp3 songs directly from legitimate music download sites. Sites like iTunes require establishing an account and placing a credit card or PayPal information on file for purchases. Most major music download sites also accept music gift cards.
Playback of MP3 Files
Playback of music files requires an mp3 music player to be installed on the computer. Most computers running any version of Windows will have Windows Media Player built into Windows. Other mp3 players are also available for download including WinAmp, RealPlayer and iTunes.
Fair Use of MP3 Files
Once you've ripped or downloaded an mp3 file from the web and stored it on your hard drive, you may be able to legally burn the mp3 back to a CD or DVD and create a customized "mix," or playlist, of songs. You can also download mp3s to external devices like iPods, Zunes and many cell phones and use these devices for playback. Some paid music download sites, like iTunes, will limit the number of times a downloaded song can be "moved" to another computer or device. Playing your music "mix" for commercial purposes, such as running a karaoke service or working as a DJ at a nightclub, is strictly prohibited by ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. Special licenses for commercial uses can be purchased through ASCAP.