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There are several web sites out there that sell MP3 music files for 10 cents each and FLAC music files for 30 cents each. At least one site even sells Hollywood movies (AVI, MKV) from $0.99 (low quality) to $2.99 (1080p). Most of these web sites seem to be based in Ukraine, and they all have FAQs that claim that they are legal. Here are a few examples:

From mp3va.com:

Q: Is your web site legal?

A: Yes, the activity of Mp3va.com is carried out according to the legislation of the license # IT - 07/13 No IT - 07 - 1/13 of the Ukrainian Public Organization "Avtor" issued for Beowner Ltd. Service www.Mp3va.com pays full-scale author's royalties to owners of pieces of music, trademarks, names, slogans and other copyright objects used on the site. Any further distribution, resale or broadcasting is prohibited.

Q: If your web site is legal, how can you sell music for $0.15/track compared to iTunes $0.99/track?

A: Our company and licensing authority is located outside U.S. area and we do not have to follow $0.99/track minimum regulations.

From melodishop.com:

Q: Is your web site legal?

A: Yes, the activity of MelodiShop.com is carried out according to the legislation of the license agreement # I-003/11 from June, 14 2011 of the State Enterprise "Ukrainian Agency of Copyright and Related Rights" (UACRR). Service www.MelodiShop.com pays full-scale author's royalties to owners of pieces of music, trademarks, names, slogans and other copyright objects used on the site. Any further distribution, resale or broadcasting is prohibited.

Q: If your web site is legal, why your prices are so low?

A: Our company and licensing authority is located outside of USA and we do not have to follow any minimum regulations of other countries.

From mp3million.com:

Q: Is your web site legal?

A: Yes, the activity of Mp3million.com is carried out according to the legislation of the license agreement # 67/17M-10 of the Rightholders Federation for Collective Copyright Management of Works Used Interactively (NP "FAIR"). Service www.Mp3million.com pays full-scale author's royalties to owners of pieces of music, trademarks, names, slogans and other copyright objects used on the site. Any further distribution, resale or broadcasting is prohibited.

Q: If your web site is legal, why your prices are so low?

A: Our Company is registered outside US area to minimize the taxation. Also, we can offer such low prices due to guaranteed bulk purchases (minimum deposit on our web site is 15 USD).

So is it legal for an American to purchase music/movies from those sites?

  • 4
    "Do those sites really pay royalties" isn't a law question. "Is it legal" is, though. – cpast Jun 10 '15 at 18:30
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No.

These companies seem to be saying that they are entitled to sell music under some sort of mandatory licensing agreement authorized by the law of the Ukraine, or by a licensing agreement specific to the Ukraine.

Even if this were true, it would only give them the right to distribute the files in the Ukraine. If an American, sitting in the U.S., makes a digital copy of a file on a Ukrainian server by copying it to his or her U.S. hard drive, they have to have a license to do so issued either by the U.S. copyright holder or authorized by U.S. law.

A license to distribute in the Ukraine doesn't give the U.S. end user that license. A Ukrainian statute doesn't give the U.S. end user that license. If the end user doesn't have that license, he or she is violating the copyright holder's rights and may be civilly or criminally liable. There is no scienter requirement for copyright infringement.

In fact, it's not at all clear that any Ukrainian site is operating even under this dubious legal cover. This report on Ukrainian licensing agencies by an industry group claims that many Ukrainian licensing authorities are actually scams that have no rights to distribute music under any license--one of the "rogue licensing agencies" discussed is Avtor, referenced in your first example. There is some legal confusion over what group does have permission to license music and collect royalties in the Ukraine, but it's clear that Avtor doesn't, and it certainly doesn't have permission to distribute them in the U.S.

If a guy came up to you on the street and told you he had written permission from Disney to videotape their latest movies with a camcorder and sell them to you for a dollar, are you violating the law if you buy it? The answer is yes, and it's the same for these Ukrainian sites.

  • 1
    Why was this downvoted? – o0'. Jun 13 '15 at 16:35
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    @nomen - I'm not sure what you want me to cite. That's what copyright is: the right to say who can make copies. That's what a license is: permission from the rights holder to make a copy. – chapka Jun 15 '15 at 18:51
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    @nomenagentis: Well let's try to be friendly to the legal experts so that we can establish a critical mass of them :) If a participant is providing clear and correct answers, but less-than-ideal documentation, I think an upvote (because you know the answer is correct) together with a comment suggesting sources that you know, or requesting them when you're in doubt, would be more constructive. (Ref this meta discussion) – feetwet Jul 17 '15 at 16:36
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    I wonder if it would be legal if a Russian site used a streaming media app that did not cache locally, and then maintained the song data only locally to their jurisdiction. Analogous to radio. – New Alexandria Jul 19 '15 at 20:22
  • The US end user wouldn't be making a copy, the Ukrainian server would be. The end user would, however, be using that copy. I don't think this changes the analysis because I believe it's illegal to use a copy in the US if that copy was made without the copyright holder's permission under US law. – David Schwartz Sep 25 '18 at 3:08
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There are two parts to the question: One, do these web sites have the right to sell this music to Ukrainian citizens, to Ukrainian residents, to visitors entering the Ukraine, and to non-Ukrainians who don't live and are not currently present in the Ukraine. Second, is it legal for US citizens to download from such a website, depending on what kind of license they have.

For the first question, the answer is a definite maybe or maybe not as far as people in the Ukraine are concerned - impossible for us to find out. For the download in the USA, I would say that the copying happens in the USA (because the USA is the place where a copy exists that didn't exist before the download), and therefore US laws applies. I would say that the download is an import, and that will be illegal if the seller doesn't have the right to sell to the USA. Which they most likely don't have. (The first and biggest such store, allofmp3.com, made no claim that they had a license to sell outside Russia, and advised potential customers to check their own countries copyright law. Which they all did, obviously :-) If they had a license, or at least a reasonable claim to have a license, they would have said so).

I think the situation would be different if you take your computer on a holiday in the Ukraine and download there as much as you can. It would be legal or illegal according to Ukrainian law. Bringing your computer back to the USA with music for personal use is not an import. Selling the music or copying it in the USA would be illegal, but each of these websites claims it is illegal anyway. I'm told it is a lovely country. Mostly. Bit cold in the winter though.

  • 1
    If we treat this as an import, a loophole could be if you argue whether the import is done by the vendor (which would be a commercial import) or personal-use import (which generally are more lax than commercial importers). – Lie Ryan Sep 1 '15 at 23:10
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"I think the situation would be different if you take your computer on a holiday in the Ukraine and download there as much as you can. It would be legal or illegal according to Ukrainian law. Bringing your computer back to the USA with music for personal use is not an import. Selling the music or copying it in the USA would be illegal, but each of these websites claims it is illegal anyway. I'm told it is a lovely country. Mostly. Bit cold in the winter though."

One problem with this logic. It assumes that there are no import restriction on intelligent copyrights of music. This is not the case as Federal copyright laws are applicable to both imports and exports. US laws are far more strict. This is a question for Federal import laws. They trump any reasonable arguments.

And I can tell you first hand all imports regardless of personal use can have restrictions and import duties. Personal use is irrelavant.

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If you follow the news regarding Netflix, you will notice that the catalogue in each country is different, and, even though Netflix has been available in Canada for quite a few years now since supposedly 2010, the catalogue there sucks so much that even the daughter of Bell Media president has supposedly took notice, according to a report from a few days ago this 2015.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/bell-media-president-says-using-vpns-to-skirt-copyright-rules-is-stealing-1.3099972

First, she cited her 15-year-old daughter, who upon returning from the U.S. one day decided she was "bound and determined" to get around Netflix's geolocation rules for Canada because she had become used to the offerings available on the U.S. service.

If those Ukrainian web-sites claim that they're legal, they probably do indeed pay the royalties to the artist associations in question. However, if Netflix is any indication, it's not very likely that those artists associations in Ukraine somehow do have the unlimited worldwide distribution rights to the content at stake.

It is very common that entirely different companies own the right to the content in different countries.

  • 1
    That's answering a different question: the OP asked whether it's legal for an American to buy music from one of these sites, not whether they operate legally in their own jurisdictions. – Flup Jun 10 '15 at 21:17
  • @Flup, are you suggesting/implying that the question equates whether it's legal to download illegal content? or, alternatively, whether it's legal as long as you're specifically paying for the rights to acquire such content? well, if you look outside of the online realm, then possession of stolen property, knowing that it has been stolen, is a crime in itself (even if you paid to acquire such property). – cnst Jun 10 '15 at 22:42
  • Yes, I can't read the question any other way. Does unlicensed digital media count as stolen property in the US? – Flup Jun 11 '15 at 6:53
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    That daughter's case is about a person who tries to download from a foreign site that doesn't allow copying. Clearly "can I buy from this Ukrainian site which happily sells to Americans and Europeans and claims it is entirely legal" and "can I trick this Ukrainian site into selling to me when they refuse to sell to Americans and Europeans" are different question. – gnasher729 Sep 1 '15 at 21:25

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