Simply lifting your favorite song from a commercial CD or a music download service is ill-advised. Almost all of that material is protected by copyright laws. Use of copyrighted material without permission is illegal and gaining permission means time & money - often lots of both. And as we've seen in recent news stories, greedy corporations are quite willing to go after individuals to assert their alleged property rights.
For now, I'll refrain from ranting about the damage the current over-reaching copyright laws are inflicting on the culture. But you can read more about it here.
However, there are great alternatives in the world of public domain and Creative Commons licensing. Public domain material is music, images or text that is uncopyrighted, or the copyright has expired, or is uncopyrightable. In other words, material that belongs to everyone.
Corporations in collaboration with a willing U.S. Congress have worked diligently to prevent materials from entering the public domain. The most recent abuse of the public interest came in the form of the Copyright Term Extension Act.
Creative Commons provides a flexible licensing solution for media makers. On it's website the following explanation is provided: "Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright — all rights reserved — and the public domain — no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting certain uses of your work — a “some rights reserved” copyright."
Here's a short video on Creative Commons licensing:
In part two of this article, I'll reference a couple of websites which offer music and sound effects, most of which fall under Creative Commons licensing. Beyond providing a flexible licensing scheme, I thing you'll also find that it provides peace of mind for those of us who want to use the content created by others in our own work.