This is one of the most effective ways to identify whether a site is legal or not. Look for download sites that charge you per song, or per month or per year.
If you see a site offering free music downloads for a certain trial period, then this doesn't necessarily mean that the site is legal. Many legal sites use this as an enticement, so do not be put off by that.
2. Size Limits
A legal music download site generally distributes music from reputable labels and artists. This means that you will not find a wide range of mixes and custom files that will almost certainly slow down your connection, and therefore take forever to download.
Moreover, if these files are small it assures the music retail industry that the music site is actually selling real legal music, and not the massive files associated with computer games and movies etc
3. Volume limits
Legal music download sites usually distribute their material on a per song basis. One of the major advantages of buying your music online is that you don't have to spend $17 for an entire album if you only want 3 or 4 songs.
Legal music sites will actually setup download limits as well as transfer rate limits. As a result, this prevents dishonest customers from setting up their computers to copy hundreds of files in a few hours.
4. Larger databases, Larger costs
The larger the databases that the legal download sites have, the more it will actually cost you. This can actually lead to paying a bit more than a normal CD in the shop IF the store has literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands of songs because they could cost between $1 - $3.
Therefore, don't go for the exceptionally large databases. The reason why these sites are more expensive than the illegal music sites is that they are obliged to give a portion of their fees back to the recording industry.
5. Limited Choice
Most of the legal music download sites don't have the capacity or copyright authority to distribute hundreds of millions of songs. The songs are stored on servers with a finite amount of space unlike the tangled web of the computer to computer file transfers from the illegal sites.
The other reason for the limited choice is that it is highly unlikely that they will get an agreement from every single record label to distribute their music online.
The quality of every online music catalog depends on the Music Studios that are providing the material. Established, and therefore popular artists usually switch labels at least once during their singing career. So you might have access to their newer materials, but not the older songs, or vice versa.
6. No Adware or Spyware
Legal music download sites like their offline retail counterparts are getting an actual fee for their service. They don't want to scam or upset their customers by placing dangerous and annoying spyware and adware programs on their computers.
7. Music Only
The fact is that a legal music download site will only have music on it to download. This means that you won't be able to download computer games, movies or anything else like this.
8. Copyright Notice
A clearly written copyright notice should be provided on the site stating:
a) The nature of the site owners authorization to distribute legal music files online
b) What you can do with the files once you have paid for them
c) Any limitations on either party as far as to use and distribution of the files.
9. No file sharing allowed
You are only allowed to use the files for personal use. Unlike a CD (physical product) you cannot purchase songs, use them and then sell them to another party or distribute them free of charge to friends, family, web surfers etc.
10. Backed by a big label?
Most of the legal music download sites are backed by at least one major music label. People are looking for songs that are popular, on the radio, playing in the clubs or on MTV.
All of that commercial material comes out of the studio system. If the label does not provide the material, subject to fees, taxes and copyright notices, then the site cannot legally distribute them.