It's not the conversion itself...
The actual conversion isn't illegal, it's the stripping of copyright protection that's illegal, as stated in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) here in the US and other laws elsewhere.
Here's the deal:
1.) If you purchase a song on CD, you can usually rip it to any format you want without a problem. However, some CDs limit the possible actions, so you may want to check before purchasing since there are no returns.
2.) You can purchase a CD from a store, at a garage sale, swap CDs, etc. However, it is assumed that when you transfer the CD you do not have any copies of the music, be it on another CD, your computer, MP3 player, etc.
1.) Above all, if this is a music download the assumption is made that you acquired the song legally. That means you either purchased it from someone authorized to sell the music or the author or rights holder has declared the music free to download.
2.) If you download a song off the internet and it does not have copy protection (such is rarely legal under #1, though), then no problem...you can convert it to another format at will.
3.) If the track is copy protected then you are out of luck. Why? The DRM prevents you from converting it...that's a limitation of the license you purchased. (You purchase a license to the music, you never purchase the song itself.) So in order to convert it you must strip the DRM, which is illegal according to the DMCA and other laws.
Now, there is a loophole where you can record the audio as it passes the sound card, creating a copy with slightly lower quality. Programs like TuneBite are famous for this. However, there is still the clause that you have a legal license to the song. If you use a monthly music service (unlimited downloads as long as you continue paying the monthly fee) and then stop paying and the licenses expire, you are legally required to destroy the copies because you no longer have a legal license to the originals.
Hope this helps,
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