The Best Free, Safe and Legal Music Download Sites

By Scott Shpak
The convenience and storage of personal MP3 players drives demand for music downloads.

Downloading music has been a hotbed of controversy in the digital age. Sourcing music that is free, safe and legal requires some knowledge of copyright terms and how these apply to music files, as well as discovery of websites that won't infect your computer with viruses and malware as you use them. Despite the roadblocks, there are sites that can deliver free, safe and legal music for downloading.

Defining Free, Safe and Legal

The intent of a copyright holder plays an important part determining if music is free and legal. The creator of both a song and the sound recording of that song (they don't have to be the same person) both have rights about how their music is shared. The copyright holders must grant permission for their work to be downloaded for free for it to be legal for you to download free. A safe site is one that lets you download music files directly, without other files that hide malicious code.

Free Offers From Commercial Sites

Companies such as iTunes, Amazon.com and MP3.com have built businesses around or including the purchase of digital music files, so their content is always safe to download. Though the main thrust of such a business is to sell music, many have free offers that you can download. The music on offer may be from up and coming bands or older, more obscure music, but you're assured that copyright clearance for free downloads is secured and legal.

Dedicated Free Sites

Peer-to-peer file sharing site BearShare is similar to Napster and Limewire, but filtering technology approved by major record labels screens out files from other users that are not approved for sharing. Files are stripped of adware or spyware, so using BearShare is safe. Sites such as the Free Music Archive and Jamendo offer music for which personal use download rights are granted through Creative Commons rights. Some songs may have additional rights granted, such as the right to use the song in other circumstances.

One Step Removed

While streaming sites such as Last.fm aren't primarily download sites, there are some files available for download. These typically support rising artists as a way to distribute their music and expand their audience. Artists' websites are another source of free downloads in unexpected places. Many artists have songs available, as an enticement to visit and spend time on their websites. Personal use downloads are free and legal, and chances of receiving malicious software are small.

About the Author

As an operations and technical projects manager in the photofinishing industry, Scott Shpak is also an experienced audio engineer and musician, as well as Editor-in-chief, feature writer and photographer for Your Magazines Canada.