Today’s world of media is steadily progressing to all digital, which is to say CDs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Switching from disc to digital can remove a great deal of clutter from your living quarters. Burning CDs, backing up your music to a computer or even cloud-based service isn’t terribly complicated since the files are already digital. What you have to watch out for is the legal caveats involved in backing up your music.

Can You Legally Copy Music Discs?

Under the doctrine of fair use, making a copy of your own CDs using CD burning software doesn’t necessarily violate U.S. copyright laws. What does violate these laws is distributing these copies or using them commercially. Simply put, if you try to resell the media you’ve copied, you will quickly find yourself in a dire legal situation. While it’s unlikely you’ll be taken to court for selling your CDs and keeping the backups on your computer, it is illegal. It’s always a safe bet to delete any digital copies you made before you contemplate selling physical copies of your media.

Music CDs are legal to copy simply because they don’t have any copy protections in place. Movies do on the other hand, which is why copying movies is illegal. If you’re simply backing up music CDs you own, which you still intend on keeping, then you are well within your right legally to do so. However, if you purchase a music CD, burn the music and then return the CD, that is crossing the proverbial legal line.

Can You Legally Copy Music to the Cloud?

Cloud services like DropBox and Skydrive offer an online method of storage so that, in the event of computer failure, you don’t lose critical files from your machine. Many individuals have used such services to back up their media, from photos to music to movies. Copying music to a cloud-based service does not infringe upon any legal matters unless otherwise stated in the Terms of Use agreement for your cloud service. If a service states that it cannot be used to store music and videos, then you shouldn’t be surprised if your media suddenly disappears due to administrative deletion.

Are There Exceptions to the Rule?

While the law doesn’t explicitly state every circumstance in which you can or cannot copy music, it is most clear when it comes to the legality of copying music to your computer as a backup precaution. However, if you copy music to your computer and then transfer it to a portable music device, then you’ve crossed the line. Of course, this depends on where you originally purchased the music. iTunes encourages consumers to “make as many custom CDs as you like.” However, their use is limited to personal, noncommercial usage.

In most any case, you’ll be able to safely copy music to your computer, custom CD or portable music device without fear of legal pursuit. Only in cases of commercial sale and use of copied music can you normally expect to attract the legal attention of music studios.

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This story was originally written for TopTenReviews and is republished with permission here. Copyright 2012