Downloading music online, no matter the source, is only legal if the copyright holder has given permission. Under United States law, unauthorized transmission of copyrighted music can result in heavy fines and even jail time.
Music may only be legally downloaded if it is in accordance with the copyright holder's wishes or if it is in the public domain. The penalties for copyright infringement are steep, reaching up to $250,000 and five years of jail time. Some musicians do release music online to be freely shared, but the RIAA states that this should never be assumed. Many online services offer legal avenues for streaming music, such as Spotify, Pandora and last.fm. These services obtain permission from the holders to broadcast their music, often through paying royalties.