Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Finding Legal Music Online

Finding Legal Online Music, and Other Electronic Content

As stated in Franklin & Marshall College's 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. Penalties for violations are severe, with a minimum fine of $750 per infringement (or song). Those who share their music illegally typically have hundreds of songs discovered.  You should be aware that you are not anonymous when you use a file sharing system. 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 College respects network users? privacy and does not routinely search user files. However, the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires the college to identify copyright violators when subpoenaed. Network users are subject to copyright laws, other state and federal laws, and college policies and regulations as outlined in the Appropriate 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 web. Information Technology Services (ITS) encourages students to explore and use these resources to maintain compliance with college policies and the law. The commercial music services found in the links in the blue box to the right allow students to 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, ITS 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 ITS policies.

Issues to consider when selecting a service:


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.


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.


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, AAV (Apple iPod), WMA (Windows Media Player), and Ogg (Linux) among others. Different portable devices support different formats.


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.


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.