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Finding Legal Online Music and Other Electronic Content

As stated in DePauw University’s Electronic Communications and Acceptable Use Policy, the college data network may not be used to violate copyright laws. It is a federal crime to distribute or download copyrighted music, movies, or software on the Internet without permission from the copyright owner.

You should be aware that you are not anonymous when you use a file sharing system and the copyright owner’s agents can easily identify you. Peer-to-peer file sharing programs such as Kaazaa can also introduce virus and security risks to your personal information and computer operation. The University respects network users’ privacy and does not routinely search user files. However, the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires the University to identify copyright violators when subpoenaed. Network users are subject to copyright laws, other state and federal laws, and University policies and regulations as outlined in the Electronic Communications and Acceptable Use Policy.

There are numerous legal sources for online music, movies, software, and other intellectual property. Major labels, indie labels and studios, solo artists, movie studios, and many others are choosing to distribute via the Internet. Information Services (I.S.) encourages students, faculty members, and staff to explore and use these resources to maintain compliance with University policies, including the Electronic Communications and Acceptable Use Policy, and the law. The resources for finding legal sources for online music, movies, software, and other intellectual property noted below provide links to sources that allow students to legally purchase/license and download content. All of the listed services assert that they comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Other than services it provides, I.S. does not recommend the use of a particular service, nor does it warrant that a service is compliant with the DMCA. Students are responsible for reading and understanding service agreements and for complying with the law and University policies.

Remember to choose intelligently: Know what issues to consider when choosing a service.

Resources for finding legal sources for online music, movies, software, and other intellectual property

Issues to consider when selecting a service

  • Security
    It cannot be said often enough: READ THE EULA (End User License Agreement) and all terms of service. Research your provider. Know whether they are permitted to sell your information to third parties. Some software allows adware, spyware, malware, and other malicious code to be downloaded to your computer. The malicious code transmits information from your system. It may capture personal information, including passwords other data that could allow someone to steal your identity. Make sure you practice safe computing, install anti-virus software on your computer, and regularly scan for viruses and malicious code.
  • Licensing and terms of use
    Some commercial services limit your access to the term of your subscription. Once you end your subscription, you can no longer play the music.
  • Cost and quality
    Streaming services typically are available for a monthly subscription, while downloads are usually (but not always) provided on a per-item basis. Less expensive downloads may have a lower quality.
  • Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions
    DRM is encryption embedded in data to protect the rights of the copyright holder and prevent certain activities. Some services provide music with embedded DRM encryption, and players that cannot successfully decrypt the media will not be able to play the music.
  • Legality
    Services should provide statements asserting that they are compliant with the DMCA. Remember that you are responsible for any stolen intellectual property. The college cannot protect you.
  • Type of service
    Some services offer streaming audio only, others purchase only, and others let you choose between streaming and purchase. Other sites offer access to online radio stations (usually commercial-free), media management tools, and other electronic content.
  • Transferability
    Some services restrict your ability to transfer downloads to other media, computers, and portable devices.
  • Supported platforms
    Most commercial music services support Windows operating systems. A few support MacOS and Linux operating systems.
  • Supported file formats
    Services usually provide only one or two of the many available audio formats: MP3, AAC (Apple iPod), WMA (Windows Media Player), and Ogg (Linux) among others. Different portable devices support different formats.
  • Catalog
    Music catalog size, timeliness, and focus vary. Some commercial music services specialize in primarily independent or small-label artists; others have large catalogs, but the music may not be current. Larger services can offer a large selection of the latest popular music.
  • Tools/client support
    Most services require the use of client software installed on the computer to facilitate downloads and manage music collections. If the service does not require a client, they likely provide an optional one.
  • Flexibility
    The online music market is constantly changing, there are many competitors, and technology continues to evolve. Look at whether the service seems to have room to adapt to change or locks you into a particular format or technology.

Content for this page adapted from the Connecticut College Information Services Policy on Finding Legal Online Music, Movies, and Other Electronic Content, with permission from Connecticut College.

Original publication: 01-July-2009
Last updated: 03-Aug-2015