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Download dangers

File sharing can cost you

By Justin DeRosa

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Despite the threat of lawsuits and hefty penalties, many teens continue to download music onto their PCs illegally through peer-to-peer networks. Some seem not to realize that what they're doing is illegal, while others rationalize that file sharing should be legal.

Rheanna Piazza, a sophomore at Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, Calif., stores her favorite songs -- 700 of them -- on her hard drive. About half of those tunes came from CDs she purchased. The rest came from Kazaa, an online service that allows users to share music for free.

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Music-lovers like Piazza risk not a mere slap on the wrist, but up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Additionally, the copyright holder may sue for up to $150,000 for each pirated work. File-sharers may be targeted regardless of whether they sold or gave away any tunes.

Like many teens, Piazza said she is aware that most file sharing is illegal, although she did not know the penalties if caught. When informed about them, she called the possible consequences "ridiculous."

"The penalty shouldn't be that severe," she said. "If you downloaded one whole CD, it wouldn't be worth $250,000. You would have to send this CD to 16,666 people, keeping in mind that the average CD is $15."

Many teens find the temptation of file sharing too convenient to pass up. Downloading is easy, instant and, some teens say, addictive. And many believe the penalties are unfair.

Other teens, like Justin Neff, use P2P networks to sample single tracks of albums. "If I download a song, or borrowed a CD from my friend, and I genuinely like it, I would buy the CD," said Neff, a junior at Valley Christian High School in San Jose, Calif. "I don't believe in doing it to an excess," he said, "but I download songs to see if an album is good."

File sharing is a broad term used to define the electronic transfer of information from one user to another. Online programs such as LimeWire and Kazaa enable users to transfer files free of charge to other users (known as peer-to-peer, or P2P, transfers). Depending on what you transfer, this procedure could be against the law. Legal download services, such as iTunes and iMesh, charge a fee. Here's a summary of what's legal and not, according to the Music United Coalition, a music-industry group:

What is absolutely illegal

Uploading copyrighted files (such as music MP3s) over an instant messenger or a P2P file-sharing network.

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Downloading copyrighted material you don't own with peer-to-peer software.

Burning CDs of copyrighted material and distributing them, even for free.

Hosting a copyrighted file for download on a personal Web site.

What's probably ok depending on the circumstances

Burning personal backup CDs or making cassettes of albums you own to preserve the original copy.

Importing music from CDs you own onto your hard drive for personal use.

Putting legal music copies on a portable music player such as an iPod or a mini-disc player.

What is completely legal

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Purchasing MP3s from licensed online stores such as iTunes or subscribing to a legal service such as Napster or Rhapsody.

Downloading royalty-free or non-copyrighted music and other files.

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