I’m explicitly looking for more information on this. On a plain reading of the statute that governs copyright, U.S. Code Title 17, I don’t see how downloading (or buying a bootleg, or in any other way acquiring an illegally distributed work) constitutes copyright infringement.
17 USC 501(a) says that copyright infringement occurs when someone violates the “exclusive rights” of the copyright owner.
17 USC 106 lays out what constitutes exclusive rights: reproduction (making copies,) creating derivative works, distributing copies, and performing or displaying the work “publicly.” Nowhere is the act of obtaining, acquiring, purchasing, receiving, possessing, etc. mentioned.
I suppose one could see the “making copies” part and argue that downloading is making an illegal copy, but the problem with this reasoning is that the person downloading didn’t make the copy that they’re receiving, they simply received a copy that was made by the uploader. I liken this to getting on eBay and buying a bootleg DVD of something: the bootlegger made and distributed the copy, not the purchaser. The U.S. Copyright Office has a statement that treats uploading and downloading copyrighted material as the same act and claims that they’re illegal, but there is no statutory or case law reference.
Please, if you know what the “glue” is that allows the jump from the copyright statutes that don’t mention acquisition to “downloading music is copyright infringement,” chime in and drop some references to the applicable statutes or case law, for the edification of all of us.