Are Russian music sites legal?

Wall Street Journal today discusses the legal standing of and, popular online music destinations located in Russia and selling songs for extremely low prices such as 10-15c for a song, while comparable Wal-Mart download price would be at fixed 88c. Wall Street Journal’s verdict is that the sites are not legal to sell their goods in the US, although the offering does sound enticing:

What’s more, the sites feature online music not available for sale in the U.S. Though copyright holders have prevented the sale of tunes from the Beatles online, the Russian sites offer most of the Beatles catalog — “Abbey Road” sells for $1.60 on

Why Russian sites are legal in Russia

It’s worth pointing out, however, as I did before, that the services are perfectly legal in Russia. The legislature there enforces compulsory licenses, which means that anyone can get the license to distribute and sell the music as long as they pay for it. In the United States if you plan to sell a certain CD, you have to negotiate with the labels, and that’s why the original Napster got shut down by the courts – they violated the law by not obtaining the licenses from the RIAA mob.

In Russia if you prove that (a) you keep track of what you’re distributing (log number of downloads) and (b) you pay to the collection agency, you’re legal to distribute any music you want. The collection agency (ROMS, quoted in the Wall Street Journal article) will then re-distribute the money to the copyright holders.

Why Russian sites are not exactly legal in the US

However, the legislature is Russian and thus applies only on Russian territory. Which means that the sites are not exactly legal to distribute the music anywhere outside of Russia. For any 15c allocated to the Russian music site some money goes to ROMS, which then distributes the payback to Universal Music Russia, BMG Russia, or whoever. Apparently the original Universal Music or BMG would not be too happy about it, even though they do get paid somewhere in the process.

So buying music out of Russia over the Internet is illegal if you’re in the United States, as buying marijuana from Netherlands would also be illegal, if you were in the US. Might be legal if you were physically in the Netherlands, but as far as the law enforcement in the US is concerned, you cannot go to one of those Amsterdam e-commerce shops and order a nice package with international shipping pre-paid.

Certain things to consider

An astute reader would probably say right now: “Wait a minute. Your analogy is all messed up. Importing marijuana from the Netherlands would be illegal, because marijuana itself is illegal in the US. You won’t be prosecuted for unauthorized buy from the Netherlands, you would be prosecuted for possession, since that’s the actual crime”. Here’s where a legal conundrum (for me, at least) comes in. Suppose you have a penpal in Russia who has one of those nice furry hats that keep your ears warm during the winter. Suppose you live somewhere in Northern United States close to Canadian border, so that winters get pretty tough. Basically, you ask your friend for a hat, which he’s happy to oblige, and pretty soon a FedEx package (he naturally doesn’t trust Russian pochta to deliver the package) arrives at your doors.

Anything illegal? Of course not. It’s a gift, and what we saw was the transfer of ownership of that hat. Then suppose MP3Search or AllOfMp3 are taking your money for MP3 downloads. But since it’s not legal for you to buy MP3s at those sites, AllOfMP3 and MP3Search won’t let you download. Instead they will send the files to your Russian friend (totally legal under Russian laws), which he will e-mail to you, and promptly delete the files off his hard drive (he doesn’t care much for your gangsta rap affection). An obvious transfer of ownership (legal). An obvious sale within Russian laws (totally legal).

Take the analogy closer to reality and let’s say that your virtual friend is really a Perl script that resides on the same server as MP3Search or AllofMP3, and that they make you register for a 1 GB Gmail account before you sign up for their service. After the purchase is completed (the MP3s are sold to your friend, the Perl script), they arrive at your Gmail box (transfer of ownership). This is another case of copyright law failing to oversee the nuances that can happen in international transactions. I don’t know whether e-mailing the MP3s would be legal or not. I guess, depends on who you ask.

  • Dam

    Dang it.

  • J.J.

    If you sign up for an email account based in Russia and have the music sent there and then send it to yourself in the the united states from that account, whould it then be legal? The transaction is made legally within russia where you legally own the songs, then you are simply transferring something you own from Russia to the U.S.

  • pIx

    There’s one sure way to shut down the ruskies!!! Drop the RIDICULOUS price of $0.99 per song and bring it to a comparable rate that the Russians are providing. Considering that you are generally getting only 128kbps mp3 and often the price of downloading the entire album exceeds the price of buying the album from Amazon doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, i am of the strong opinion that the entertainment business is making toooo much profit thaey don’t deserve by forcing others to pay too much. An engineer or doctor or any other profession does not get the money, glory or respect that an actor or a musician gets. You may say I am jealous or something, but the fact still remains that they are being overpaid!! and what the ruskies are charging seams to be a fair amount and still all the folks associated in the business makes enough profit.

  • cgh

    It’s not the artists that are overpayed…well, most of them aren’t. Most musicians have to rely on selling merch at concerts, because the labels take a huge portion of cd profits and pocket it themselves. That’s why we sell 10 different types of T-shirts at our concerts, because we have to make a living somehow and the label robs us of too much money. We only see a tiny fraction of that 9.99 you pay for a cd. Blame all the middle men for the outrageous prices. We’re just the creators who love doing what we do best.

  • James Howard

    Alex is that you ….

  • Sean

    Actually, I think prices in the $0.88-0.99 range are reasonable for a music track… as long as it’s high quality and unencumbered with DRM. The Russian sites just illustrate how little one can charge for the service and still make a profit if you don’t have to pay the artists a reasonable royalty (not that the record labels necessarily do) or spend much on advertising. Since you can obviously make some kind of profit at $0.15-0.20 per song, it might be advantageous to offer ‘sample’ tracks at a price around $0.25, say on older albums or something, just to attract new listeners, but again, I don’t see a problem with ~$1 ea for popular tracks.

  • Moot

    Sites that legally sell music in Russia are VERY DEFINITELY legal in other countries.

    I can’t quite understand what exactly you think makes buying mp3s from Russia illegal. The Russian copyright system satisfies the same international copyright laws as any other country does.

    Does the system undercut music companies and artists? Yep! Does that make it illegal? NO!

    Just like here in the US we can buy cheap “copyrighted” drugs from Canada, we can buy cheap copyrighted music from Russia. Though, the US government may make laws against both of these in the future.

  • I’ll tell you why

    These sites are illegal.

    I’ve found my music, which I self-produced and self-distribute, on sale on Russian sites. I do not have any contracts for electronic sale (I do not sell mp3s through iTunes, etc.) and I do not receive any money. They stole my music and they sell it.

    How the fuck is that legal?

  • scooty

    It seems to me that no one knows for sure if it is legal or not to download music from these Russian music sites. I have searched websites and discussed the issue with some legal minds and no one can say absolutely if it is legal or not for a US citizen to download these songs for personal use. I have heard the argument that since it has been ruled legal for to operate in Russia, a person can import songs into the USA for personal use according to US copyright laws even if the recording artist hasn’t approved it for sale in Russia. But some say you have to be in Russia, record the song, and then bring it in personally to be legal. Using the internet doesn’t count. What bothers me is that the RIAA hasn’t addressed the issue to the public, yet. There hasn’t been any prosecuters standing up to address the issue in the press. Sure, the Congress is putting pressure on Russia to get their copyright laws changed so a site like can’t operate, but until then someone in the US Courts need to let the average citizen understand if they are breaking a law or not if they download a song from a Russian site. The RIAA needs to address the issue to the general public before they start a mass sueing campaign. It has been said, ” Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” But it seems everyone is ignorant when it comes to the issue of legality for downloading music from

  • Enforcement

    The real questions for me are?
    1) Is anyone pursuing legal action against the patrons of
    2) Are they actually winning damages in U.S. courts or are they just keeping defense attorneys busy?

  • Alex

    To enforcement?
    1) None as far as I know. Which law are they violating?
    2) Winning damages in US courts will probably pay up $0, and so far it’s not enough of profit to justify the suit.

  • Alice

    These 2 comments were found on a UK forum, if 2nd comment is correct it would seem that European’s & probably North Americans are within there rights to download from Russian sites.

    Russian sites are legal in Russia, doesn’t mean they are legal in the UK. Actually no-one knows at present (not even the legal community) whether they are legal or not in the UK. It would be better to err on the side of caution on this one in my opinion (that is for the site).

    Actually yes it does mean they are legal in the UK, in that music you download is considered legally licensed for personal use, and you cant legally be prevented from purchasing in this way. This is because of the Berne convention as administered by the WIPO, and WTO requirements.

    I quote “…any country that is a signatory of the convention is awarded the same rights in all other countries that are signatories to the Convention as they allow their own nationals, as well as any rights granted by the Convention”

    The pigopolist record companies dont like it because it cuts them out of the loop – the money paid for licences goes directly to artists! Therefore they do a ‘Bush’ and lie through their teeth even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary in the hope that you believe them and use their preferred overpriced and DRM crippled

  • Chris

    Yes the legality of AllofMp3 has been tested in the Russian High court. It was deemed to be legal under Russiam copyrght law. Under USA import laws it is legal to import digatal goods to America, ie MP3’s, and as such it is legal, in the USA, to buy music from AllofMp3 (and AllTunes) and import it into the USA. This presumes that anything you import (buy) is for private use, and you no not distribute these copyrighted works without permission.

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  • hrmmm…

    there’s a big difference here that you’re not addressing. it is a SERVICE. as the russian law dictates, it is a broadcast license which allofmp3 is working under. therefore, one is paying for a service, and not the content itself. notice allofmp3’s language? the fees are explicitly billed as encoding fees, not as content.

  • zu

    There’s this whole,sorta meek, ‘what can i get away with’ vibe going on here.Legal grey areas need to be navigated by an individuals’ moral compass.OF COURSE artists & copyright holders are not getting a fucking dime from these sites.I could easily walk into a store and steal a bunch of stuff; it’s my choice if i want to or not-not the fear of getting ‘caught’.I’m sorry but i think a lot of this is about being trifling & CHEAP-like, how much messing about, jumping through hoops, supporting dodgy geezers & screwing artists are you prepared to do to save yourself, like, 20cents?

  • Ded

    I get lots of music, for cheap money. I don’t care. I’d never buy from a Western MP3 site.

  • Svitlana Sweat

    Hello everyone,

    I have not been back home for a while and crave to listen to Russian music. Could any of you advice me on good sites I can go to and buy or download, or receive in email Russian songs?

    Many thanks,


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  • Kirill

    First legal on-line music store opened

    Good afternoon!

    AudioFind.Ru became the first Russian on-line music store to start legal sales. In 31 May, 2006 previously pirate recourse was bought and turned to legal by “Music Online” Ltd.

    On the press-conference witch was devoted to opening the portal Patrick Sullivan, vice-president of The Orchard music catalog said that there is nothing to worry about thought. Piracy fighting abroad experience shows that this is an absolutely normal situation when pirate recourses closes or turns to legal one by one. It was about Napster who was among the first who shut down illegal music distribution channel and opened there a legal one.

    According to Alexander Olkhovsky, chief of “Music Online” Ltd., the only real chance to end up with piracy is to build a legal alternative. He said that market of on-line music distribution can be valued to $300-400M. AudioFind.Ru is planning to get 10-15% of this market. Though, as Alexander adds, we have already got 100% of legal digital music distribution market share.

    On the day of it’s opening, legal AudioFind.Ru offers 100’000 tracks for downloading, nowadays it’s already 160’000 that would grow up to 300’000 to the end of next month and became an 1 million catalog to the end of the year (that is three times as much of any pirat’s catalog and commensurable with top-level foreign services).

    The AudioFind.Ru mission – to help creating a civilized society that is truly built on justice and responsible attitude to other’s businesses.

    If you are interested in this information, we are ready to give you necessary information for more serious article.

    Yours sincerely,
    Kirill Samardakov
    +7 495 788 1407

  • Eli

    Which site’s are legal AND moral? (i.e A fair amount of the money actually does go to the people that created it). I think that’s where online music sales will go in the future. Less need for middle men and MORE money going straight to the artists (esspecially the little guys that don’t sign with labels and distribute exclusively online). But this change will only happen if we INSIST on only buying from places that make sure the money is going to the people that deserve it. (Hey, maybe the music will even get better if the artists aren’t wasting time making filler songs to fill an album so they can meet their label’s deadlines. Which will happen if they know we’re only buying the one or two GOOD songs on the album anyway). so? What sites are legal AND moral and can you point me to the pages on those sites that specify where the money goes? Thanks in advance.

  • Attic Attack

    This is very interesting but I reached this discussion page because I’m searching for a real alternative to iTunes (which is available in Portugal) and Napster and others (who don’t “operate” in Portugal). The one I have so far as one of the best (at least for alternative music) is Now, I’m sorry but everything that seems too good to be true… usually is and those Russian sites seem like that. As far as I know, emusic is legal and provides track of what you download: the only flaw is that if you have a monthly subscription of 90 downloads per month and you only download 15, you lose the rest. And as far as I know, they pay the artists. So, until I find a real alternative I’ll stick to emusic.

  • http://none JD

    We can continue to debate this, but the facts are it will become illegal. The law will be changed. Any loopholes in the system will be found and eliminated. Just like anything else in America, like the IRS, you will not cut corners and escape. My question to Americans is why in the hell do you want to piss all your $$ to Russia? Its like buying blood diamonds or illegal animal fur. Our country has a lot of rules and regulations that other countries for a good reason. In China, you can probably burn tires in the front yard. In some countries, you can probably piss in the middle of the street. Does that mean we all should do it? Some of us need to generate a little more common sense.

  • Sujith

    I am not paying 99cents each for a DRM, low quality song. Someone needs to stand up against these music industry giants.. while all you folks debate on legality, you miss the point on who made these rules and who is to gain from it?

    I am not paying 99 cents for low quality DRM songs. PERIOD.

  • JR

    A dollar a song, or anything close, is far too much money to pay for a low bitrate DRM mp3!

    When I buy a low quality 128 bitrate mp3 from Itunes, I am not paying for production of a CD or its distribution. I’m not paying for the loss in profit due to theft of the CD or when the CD doesn’t sell and sits on a shelf. I am definitely not paying for anything close to the quality of music that comes from a cda file format. And on top of that I have to deal with a DRM that controls how I use the song on MY computer in the privacy of MY house.

    15 cents a song is simply much more reasonable to pay and that is why I go to If I truely like a song or an album I go out and buy the CD.

  • jano

    but is it possible to be joined to a russian mp3 site, but then they get sued and they give the user info to riaa, and in turn riaa sues the users?

  • JOE

    GOOD Question JANO, the riaa is sueing people who cant afford to defend themselves. That one lady TONYA or something got her case dismissed w/ prejudice. that meant that she could sue for attorny’s fees or something. any way they paid her attorny’s fees, OVER $68,000!!!! So what happens when they come knocking at Grandma Helga’s house, she doesn’t even own a TV, let alone a computer, no email or ip address, and they say “Listen ya ol’ bitch, we gonna sue your ass for downloadin music. You can settle with us for $3,000 out of court, or we can take it to a judge (of course her attorney will win but it will cost her $68,000).” NOW WHAT?! thats called legalized extortion.

    Someone needs to fuck the RIAA in the ass with no jelly. Like how about a young lawyer, who just passed the bar and wants to make a name for himself while he stilll lives at home with mommy and dadddy, takes on a classaction lawsuit against the RIAA. Every 13 year old kid in america sues for intimidation, RICO, and all sorts of shit! BYE BYE RIAA, Helloooo new lawyer with the big name! Almost turns me on.

  • Noize

    I think the RIAA are suing people for SHARING music, not downloading it.

    I don’t know regarding the U.S., but in Canada, it falls under the terms of “private copying” and is perfectly legal since 1998. (Downloading is legal, not sharing).

    Here are some details :

    The 1998 amendment provided for the payment of a private copying levy to various copyright holders on the sale of “blank audio recording media”, in exchange for the “legalization” of private copying. “Private copying” occurs when individuals copy recorded music for their own personal use. There is no requirement that the source copy be a non-infringing copy. Therefore, the private copying regime applies to all private copying of sound recordings onto audio recording media, regardless of their source. For example, the source copy could be a pre-recorded audiocassette purchased at a music store, a borrowed or stolen CD, or an MP3 downloaded from the Internet.

  • Xavian

    The sites are illegal, but it is not illegal for a person from the U.S. to use them.
    It is NOT the resposibility of the consumer to pay royalties.
    Say you bought a TV from bestbuy, can you be arrested if Bestbuy did not send in the sales tax on your item…NO, not your problem!

  • Pete (UK)

    I tend to avoid mainstream music and mostly buy ambient and electronic music from small netlabels or direct from the musician. Prices are generally in the region of £3-5 ($6-10) and I pay it gladly and would rather do that than buy from dodgy sites although I have done that for uber rare stuff I can’t find elsewhere. I bought one DRM album from itunes and ripped it to strip out the DRM because I want to play it anywhere and I want to put it on my daughters MP3 player and on mine. I won’t buy from Apple again. Their service is a rip off with prices higher than CD’s delivered from or amazon. How the fuck can that be? The industry ripped the public off for years and are still doing it. Seems they’re not so keen to get fucked in the arse themselves.

  • Gardiner

    Most music blows balls which is why so many artists are hurting financially. Take a look at Phish and Grateful Dead. They allowed tapers at each show and never went after any recordings on-line, in fact, they tacitly encouraged it. How is it possible to know that a downloader who obtained a song “illegally” had any intention of buying it in the first place?

  • Scatterblak

    These sites are illegal.

    I’ve found my music, which I self-produced and self-distribute, on sale on Russian sites. I do not have any contracts for electronic sale (I do not sell mp3s through iTunes, etc.) and I do not receive any money. They stole my music and they sell it.

    How the fuck is that legal?

    Wrong. Never confuse unfair with illegal. If there are no laws against someone else coming into possission of a tune you wrote and selling it, then it’s not illegal. A song or a melody isn’t a possession everywhere in the world, and there are plenty of countries where someone could grab your tunes, repackage them and sell them through Russian (or whoever) websites, and not be in violation of any international laws.

    Until musicians in general start treating music as a business instead of just as an art, you’ll hear more and more complaining along these lines. The world doesn’t work that way anymore – if you find your tunes for sale on a Russian site (Which I also did – on, before it went away), leverage it for marketing. Issue a press release. Use it to generate media interest. In the mean time, keep this in mind — no matter how unfair it seems, no matter how mad you get, the sites simply aren’t illegal. Quit complaining and brush up on international copyright law, and quit just spounting ‘oh, they’re illegal!’ crap on the boards.

  • Charlie

    Music from a very small label in my city has been taken and put up for sale on these russian sites, how are they to get their money? Your hat analogy is a little off though. Unless that hat was stolen property in the first place? Or that hat was illegal in the US.

  • Charlie

    Sorry about the double post.


    Your analogy is also off, it would be more akin to purchasing a stolen TV from someone. The music is taken without permission and onsold. At the very least you would have to surrender the TV.

  • Paul

    I agree a fair amount of money should go to the artist & label, If it’s a case of cutting out the middle man to bring the costs down maybe that is the answer. Have every artist & label catalogued on a site funded by advertising but not actually serlling the tracks themself then the user is redirected to buy direct from the artists site essentially paying only the artist and their representitive label directly.

    Costwise nowadays I think 15c is a little low and 99c to high. We should now be aiming for something inbetween, maybe 40-50c

  • Thomas

    For those complaining about their music on the Russian sites-

    The Russian copyright law requires you to register your ownership with the government’s designated handler of disributions of these royalties. If you do that, they will send you money, in impossible-to-cash checks in Rubles.

    We have a similar system in the US, but only for STREAMING radio and such, not for downloadables. If you don’t register, you’re not going to get the royalties when I play your song (LEGALLY) on my internet radio station.

    If you were Russian, you’d be bitching about the $20 or less you’d never be able to actually get that SoundExchange has collected on your behalf here in the US.

    These are the laws. Deal with it, and concentrate on what you can fix.

    Sell me your MP3s in a way I like, and I’ll be glad to send you 20c a song. There are sites for this, and you should patronize the one that lets you offer every sort of format, all for the same price of 20c a song. Then you’ll make money off me, and I’ll be glad that you do.

    Otherwise… I’ll get them from Russia!


    Be glad that I am willing to give that much, and give me a place to send the money that isn’t Russia!

  • lise

    I totally agree with Thomas above. Sorry, but I can’t afford $1 per track, and I resent the fact that that $1 isn’t even going to the people who created and performed the song – the overwhelming majority of it goes to fat label companies that I don’t need. I will continue to buy music from Russian music sites until the RIAA gets it through their thick heads that if they want to have any part in the future of the music industry they’d better revise their business strategies big time.
    The nerve of them threatening Russia that they wont be allowed into the WTO unless they do something about their music sites – all those sites are really guilty of is being better capitalists than the western music industry, who previously have a monopoly with the only restrictions on price being what consumers were willing to fork out. Well now there is some competition so if you don’t like it learn to live on a lower income and CHARGE US LESS and you’ll get some business.
    The only victims here are the artists, and I’m sure that as soon as the RIAA gets over their little tantrum and starts listening to sense we’ll see them getting a much larger proportion of the money generated in music sales.

  • Alice keymer

    Is this a joke? I have been buying music from thi ssite for years and always thought it was just a cheap music website. I was impressed by their prices and have been buying only from them. What’s going to happen to me?

  • paul

    why dont these musicians start hustling out there and do more concerts and demand more of the money for themselves for actually doing some work! the musicians need to work together and control their own lives like the rest of us. the musicians let the music industry control them and take advantage of them. they have all the talent but dont know how to make money off of it. mayby some of the really wealthy artists need to come up with a better model for making money. how about get out htere and play your music and if its good people will pay to listen I would love to pay 30-40 $ to take my whole family to listen to some good music at alocal venue and enjoy a night out but if its going to cost 100-200 $ or more then I just cant go very often think about it 100 families @ 30 $ is 3000 thats for one nights work for 5 band members and 600$ each for 2hr sessions and 1800 per week thats 7200 $ per month for 24 hours of work in a whole month just ramblin the musicians need to organize locally and control what happens and who gets the money. give ordinary people something to do that they can afford to do often like going to the movies. they could still make additional money through other methods of sales of course, but earn a living locally entertaining local people. of course they have to organize!

  • ian

    for decades record companies controlled the means of distribution of recorded music. they used this power to enrich themselves as one would expect. new technology has destroyed the livelihood of millions of people worldwide. they have been advised to find new ways of making a living. the so called artists who make music and sell it it cheaply to record companies will continue to make music, of that im sure. (imagine bono getting a job !) however the means of distribution will change. the record companies know this and realise they will be cut out of the deal if they dont get changes in the law. in the long term this is just another industry which will not survive, and no one will care. do any of us care about the people who made tv tubes ? these russian sites are very definitely legal or the record companies would have gone after them like a dog after a rabbit. the days of men like paul mccartney spending a few hours in a studio and then making money from that for the rest of their lives are over. it was great while it lasted. musicians now need to take control of their product and sell it at a reasonable price and they will do just fine. so lets not shed any tears over the demise of this industry which for a lot of the time has been an absolute disgrace and has screwed musicians and fans alike for a long long time.

  • Anonymous

    this is pathetic i totally think that the Russian sites are 100% legal. So far nobody has been sued for using those sites, so as long as their legal while they are why not use them. I mean i love apple products but common not only apple but all the other sites that sell music why do you have to rip us all off. It comes down to greediness. Apparently the Russians aren’t that greedy that they have to make a killing off of music. It sux that the country is in a bad financial state and people that love music are charged an arm and a leg for it. So those US music companies can hopefully do something about this cuz the way it looks more people are going to be moving to Russia. LOL

  • mfearson

    hi sir, thank you for your nice article, i have dilemma about this one too. after i have read all about this russian rules. i have come to my conclusion, how about we decide if the site is legal or not by whether or not they paying the artist.

  • Jimmyj

    have downloaded lots and never had a problem – either with the downloads or with my VISA card

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