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Last Updated: Tuesday May 12 2009 11:00 GMT

How do I know if I've downloaded music illegally?


A group of creative companies has teamed up to ask the government to do more about illegal downloading.

The group says more than half of all internet use in the UK is illegal.

As many as six million people in the UK use the internet to download music, TV programmes and films without paying for them.

The group wants the companies that supply people with the internet to stop them from going online if they keep breaking the law.

So what is against the law, and what isn't?

Have I broken the law by downloading music from the internet?

If you're downloading tracks using the internet that you keep forever, and aren't paying for them, chances are it's against the law.

Sometimes official sites and online music shops give away free tunes to promote themselves. But to be safe, unless you're getting a set number of free tunes from what looks like a proper site, be careful.

If you've downloaded tracks from sites which are backed by the music industry, including HMV, iTunes, Napster, Amazon or OD2, then you haven't broken the law. You can check if the sites you've been using are legal on

The industry is more worried about uploaders, which are people who have lots of music on their computers that other people can take from them.

What about streaming music?

You're a lot safer streaming than downloading if it's free music you want.

That means watching video clips of your fave bands on websites is allowed.

Using other websites that just play music to you is fine too, as they pay record companies for the music you want to listen too.

These services don't store the music files on your computer, or let you put them onto your MP3 player or mobile phone.

What about lending CDs to a mate or emailing them MP3s?

You're could be on dodgy ground here. If your friend borrows that CD and copies it to their computer or MP3 player, that's against the law because they haven't paid for it.

And if you send them a digital copy of a track it's the same thing - against the rules.

Can I be sued for swapping a few songs?

Yes, you could, but it's not that likely.

The British record industry has said lots of the problems of people sharing music illegally come from only a few people offering thousands of tracks to other people on the internet.

And in 2009 British MP David Lammy said: "We can't have a system where we're talking about arresting teenagers in their bedrooms."

Has anyone in the UK been sued?

At first it was only file-swappers in the US who were getting into legal trouble, but now people in the UK have been taken to court too.

In March 2005, 23 people in the UK paid a total of £50,000 in compensation after being taken to court.

They admitted making up to 9,000 tracks available for other people to download from their computers.

But children can't be sued, can they?

In the US, the record industry says it can sue anyone, including kids. Some parents have had to pay big fines because their kids were downloading illegally.

British record bosses haven't said if any of the people they sued were children, but thought it "highly likely" that some of the people that paid the fines were doing so for their kids.

What about in other parts of the world?

Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Spain and Italy have already taken similar action, says the International Federation for the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

In Italy at least 75 people have been taken to court.