What Are the Dangers of Downloading Music?


For serious music fans, nothing beats the ease of downloading their favorite sounds off their computer. However, the convenience masks a host of real dangers, starting with the introduction of spyware and viruses that can turn computer networks into electronic train wrecks. Users who violate their company's policies can also leave their employers liable for the leaking of proprietary information. If that were not worrying enough, lawsuits for unauthorized copying and distribution await the unwary downloader.


  • To critics, the greatest danger of illegal downloading lies in the distribution of infected files through P2P networks that run without centralized servers--a problem that becomes even more acute, once statistics about its popularity are considered. In America, 35 percent of white-collar workers admitted to violating their company's policies at least once, while consumers have paid $8 billion for computer replacement and repair work resulting from viruses and spyware, according to the International Federation For The Phonographic Industry.


  • Not surprisingly, young people--traditionally, the most eager electronic consumers--remain the focus of concern. A November 2007 survey commissioned by the IFPI found one in five British residents under 25 illegally downloaded music at work; while in America, some observers estimate that 60 million have done likewise. But each sharing of a music file is legally considered a separate infringement, since only the a recorded work's creators can grant permission to distribute it--a distinction often lost on teenagers in pursuit of free music.


  • The music industry's representatives, the Recording Industry Association of America, have sought to dampen teens' and cubicle dwellers' enthusiasms by suing them--often, for as much as $100,000 per song, an October 2003 "USA Today" article noted. Most cases have been settled, such as the $2,000 paid by the parents of Brianna Lahara, who originally was staring down a figure of $150,000 per song, the newspaper reported. Heavy-handed as these suits appear, they demonstrate the RIAA's readiness to recoup legally what it loses in cyberspace.


  • There is growing evidence that criminals are scouring P2P networks for personal financial information, which opens up the risk of identity theft. However, unwitting infringements represent an equally severe threat, as the IFPI's March 2008 report noted--such as the leaking of 17,000 current and former Pfizer employees' names and Social Security numbers caused by the downloading of file-sharing software on a company laptop. This threat looms large, since encrypted P2P technology is designed to bypass the normal firewalls that screen out viruses, or other threats.


  • Although unauthorized downloading's problems are well-documented, more awareness is needed, the IFPI contends. For example, the 2007 survey found that, of the British office workers who downloaded illegally, 43 percent knew that their employers had policies against the practice. Similarly, a survey of 1,409 European intelligence technology professionals cited music downloads as the biggest security threat. Yet two-thirds admitted they did not block downloads on employees' computers, suggesting that the lack of awareness cuts both ways.

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