The Catholic University of America

Alternatives to Illegal Downloading and Sharing of MP3s

Students who want to listen to music online but who do not want to support what they view as corporate monopolies have other options besides the download of MP3s posted in violation of copyright laws. What are some of those other options?

The Creative Commons

The Creative Commons is a space where artists, musicians, writers and photographers can post their content online and choose what kind of license to assign to their work. Some may choose to identify the content posted as belonging to the public domain, which means the music or photograph is freely available to all who wish to use it. A variety of other licensing formats exists. A visitor to the Creative Commons web site can copy and distribute the creative work using the conditions specified by the creator. The conditions include attribution only (free to use but give the author credit); non-commercial use only; allow derivative use of the work, or any combination of the above. For a full description see the choose license section of the Creative Commons. The OPSOUND (Open Sound Resource) section of the Creative Commons allows users to download music posted to the web site free of charge and use the music in accord with the license.

Pandora Radio

Pandora Radio is a personalized internet radio service that helps you find new music based on your old and current favorites.


The MagnaTune web page is a web page for those who wish to sample music before purchasing the CD. Not being able to sample music is a common complaint of those who download MP3s off the web. This site is founded for musicians by musicians, and has no major label connections.


This is a unique web site where listeners who like classical music can hear live and archived concert performances by great artists. Alain Coblence, a French lawyer, classical music aficionado and entrepreneur came up with this website along with a record label called Andante. Andante has exclusive contracts with some world-class orchestras to stream and sell their live concerts. A free trial period of the site is available, after which users must pay a subscription fee. is a web site where students can listen to both free and fee based music. Top 40 music is generally by subscriber only, but thousands of artists seeking a listening base list their songs with, allowing free downloads of their music.

College Radio Station Webcasts

Many excellent radio programs are webcast over college radio stations. American University webcasts at Since approximately 75% of the music played on this show is not currently available for purchase, the program and the station's archives perform an important music preservation function. The playlist reaches back to the 1890's, but the focus is on music from the 1920's to the 1950's.

See also WebFree Music on the College Broadcasters website.

Sound recording libraries from other countries

An excellent example of a foreign recording library is The Virtual Gramophone, a website of Canadian Historical Sound Recordings. This is a multi-media database which, when completed, will provide a detailed picture of the 78-rpm era in Canada.

Other Popular Sites

The music webpage of has a list of websites where popular songs are streamed over the web. See also the iTunes Music Store.

Recording Music off the Web

For $18 you can purchase a device called Total Recorder that allows you to make copies of webcasts. It is not clear at this time whether Total Recorder technically circumvents streaming technologies and therefore might be illegal.[1] It is probably a good idea to use it only with works that are in the public domain or where copying would be a fair use.

Determining whether the recording and underlying composition of a sound recording is in the public domain is often a complex task due to the patchwork of laws that exists (both in the United States and abroad) with respect to sound recordings. Unless you're an archivist it's unlikely that you'd want to invest the time and energy necessary to figure out the public domain status of a recorded work. One of the goals of the Creative Commons is to avoid this complexity. At the Creative Commons the public domain and licensing status of the online creative work is encoded with the work.

The fair use guidelines can be used with respect to music, but only if they are studied and properly understood. If there is an easily available copy of the sound recording for sale, fair use is less likely to apply.

Support your friends and relatives in their musical endeavors

Now that some of the barriers to producing CDs have been removed, you would be surprised to find out how many of your friends, relatives or colleagues are musicians. Attorneys in the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA) who know Jennifer Kirkland only as an attorney extraordinarily talented in decoding the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) might be surprised to learn that she will soon release a sweet little jazz styled vocal CD entitled "You Must Believe in Spring." Details about ordering this CD can be obtained at .

"You Must Believe in Spring" by Jennifer Kirkland

Other IHE web pages with links to Free Music