Legal or illegal? A copyright lawyer sets it straight

Friday, June 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The Dallas Morning News asked Kelly Kordzik, intellectual property attorney with Winstead Sechrest & Minick, to answer basic questions about what's legal and illegal about file-sharing programs.

Q: Theoretically, isn't downloading any single MP3, piece of commercial software or video a violation of the law?

A: If you don't have permission from the author or copyright holder, you have violated the copyright by downloading it.

Q: So even if I download illegally and delete it frommy drive, I have still violated the copyright laws?

A: The mere act of copying was a violation.

Q: Realistically, what are the risks I face?

A: They (music and record companies) are not going into everybody's homes and suing individuals for copying a song. The damages are minimal - the cost of a CD. What they're going to do is look for someone with deeper pockets to sue.

Q: The Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 allows for the use of digital audio recording devices for personal, noncommercial recording of copyrighted music - without liability. So why can't I make my legal copies available for others?

A: Well, you're contributing to the copyright infringement by someone else. I think a person who opens their files on the Internet could be held liable for contributory infringement. But again, is anyone going to go after you? No.

Q: So the individual users of these programs are really safe from any threat?

A: There's the potential with the Internet that someone can track who is downloading their material, then send out mass letters to everybody. Maybe they could scare some people into paying $5 or something. But I think an individual can be relatively safe. Microsoft doesn't go after individuals. But they do hire agencies and law firms, and they do go after companies.