Can You Share MP3s From Amazon?

By Ess Loumarr
Lending an MP3 player with Amazon downloads may violate the service terms.

The Amazon.com MP3 store is an extensive library of digital music where you can purchase albums and instantly download tracks to your computer. Purchasing music online provides quick access to your favorite songs, but Amazon’s service limits the actions you can perform with the files. The user agreement forbids any type of distribution that is not for personal use, including sharing, lending or re-selling downloaded songs. Amazon MP3s are not copy-protected, but you run the risk of violating copyright laws if you distribute the files to other users.

Ownership

Before digital music was distributed primarily in the format of MP3s, music was a commodity that could be traded and re-sold without violating the rights of record companies. Although the audio recordings on an album belong to the record company, a commercial compact disc becomes the property of the consumer. When you purchase a CD, you maintain the right to lend it to a friend or sell the used disc. However, making copies of the disc to distribute to another person infringes upon the rights of the original producer, even if you are not seeking monetary gain. The ease of obtaining music files online and through file-sharing software has complicated the concept of ownership. The act of sharing music with friends can seem harmless, but transferring music files directly from user to user prevents the content creator from receiving compensation for his intellectual property.

Amazon Download Terms

Amazon’s service contract expands upon basic copyright laws with strict descriptions of how the digital downloads can be used. According to the Terms of Use, you cannot “redistribute, transmit, assign, sell, broadcast, rent, share, lend, modify, adapt, edit, license or otherwise transfer or use the Digital Content.” You are required to accept these terms before each track or album download is activated. Amazon only authorizes the buyer to “copy, store, transfer and burn” digital music for personal use. Amazon MP3 purchases do not constitute ownership of the media. The record company retains full rights to the MP3 tracks and each buyer essentially agrees to a one-time lease of the media.

Fair Use Rights

Amazon’s policy incorporates all-encompassing language to tackle various forms of potential “sharing.” For example, the term “assign” implies that you are prohibited from transferring ownership of a purchased track to another user and removing the music from your personal possession entirely. Alarmed by the specificity of Amazon’s service contract, “Seattle Times” journalist Brier Dudley sought clarification from legal expert Fred von Lohmann, a senior attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Lohmann noted the depth of the restrictions, which limit fair sharing by prohibiting all forms of transmission. According to Lohmann, the contract “appears to enable record companies to pursue a breach of contract if, for instance, you loaned your mother an iPod containing MP3s bought from Amazon.”

Considerations

Record companies may not seek retribution for indirect or mild forms of sharing, journalist Dudley points out, but you should be aware of the unbalanced distribution of rights demonstrated by the Amazon user agreement. Although Amazon is a legal download service, you can still encounter legal trouble if you modify or re-distribute music purchased from the site. Amazon MP3s are not copy-protected through digital rights management software, so users have the capacity to perform sharing activities prohibited in the service terms. However, inadvertent infringement of copyright, such as automatic network sharing of Amazon music files on your computer, can result in a fine of up to $30,000, according to the United State Copyright Office. Intentional violation of copyright carries an even heftier maximum fine of $150,000.

About the Author

Ess Loumarr is a freelance writer from New England and has worked as a copywriter since 2008. Her short fiction has appeared in the "Spectrum Anthology" at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and composition at Columbia University, as well as prizes for playwriting and fiction.