You may have heard horror stories about people who got into trouble using a file download service like Rapidshare. The good news is that Rapidshare is perfectly legal to use. There is nothing illegal about the service itself. The gray (and potentially dangerous) area comes into play when you contemplate downloading certain types of content.
The Rapid Share Service
With Rapidshare, you can use a URL given to you by a friend or associate to download a file or a number of files. The content can range from PDF documents to videos to executable programs. Rapidshare may not always check to see what type of content your friend has uploaded, and you subsequently download. However, Rapidshare does place strict guidelines on the type of content that you can upload or download from its servert. Downloading certain kinds of content from Rapidshare can potentially get you into trouble.
When you sign up for Rapidshare, the site will require you to read and accept its terms of service. This document states certain conditions that you agree to abide by when using the service. Among them is a clause that states that you agree not to use the service to download copyrighted material. This clause helps to protect both you and the service from potential legal action by owners of violated copyrights.
The Internet is notoriously difficult to police, and while it may not be outright illegal to use Rapidshare to download copyrighted material in all areas, doing so can put you at risk of heavy fines. For example, if a movie studio finds one of its movies on Rapidshare and it succeeds in forcing the site to remove the movie, it may also be able to force the site to provide a list of all users who downloaded the file. While this happens rarely, the concept of Internet policing is evolving and copyrights are taken very seriously.
Downloading Protected Content
The question of whether you are breaking the law when you use Rapidshare depends on what you are downloading. It also depends on whether it is illegal in the context of Rapidshare's terms of service or in a more general sense. To err on the side of caution, you may consider it illegal to download copyrighted material on Rapidshare, though this may not be the case in all nations. Many people have received heavy fines for downloading music for free from services like Rapidshare.