Risks Pertaining to Illegal File Sharing
Contrary to what many students believe, U.S. federal law considers the unauthorized
uploading, downloading, or sharing of copyrighted material as a serious offense which
can carry serious consequences for an offender.
During the past few years, copyright holders and their trade associations—including the Recording Industry Association of America [RIAA] and the Motion Picture Association of America [MPAA]—have assertively pursued copyright holders’ rights and have focused their attention on college students as major violators. There are cases where the settlement costs have ranged from roughly $3,000 to $8,000 or more for the initial offense, which may be no more than the download of a single song, to upwards of such amounts for subsequent offenses. If you’re convicted of illegally sharing copyrighted material you risk having a criminal record that will follow you all your life. The RIAA announced in December 2008, a change in strategy. It said it would begin to work with ISPs to combat illegal file sharing. WNCC prohibits an infringement of intellectual property rights by any member of the WNCC community. It is against WNCC policy to participate in the violation of the intellectual property rights of others.
Comprehending Copyright Infringement
WNCC is committed to the education of its students. WNCC labors to make students aware of the policies that govern the use of its computing facilities. We encourage the responsible use of WNCC computing resources. Included in these efforts is to provide information about copyright laws, particularly with regard to file sharing.
To protect you and the College from legal action, we want you to understand the acts that constitute violation of federal copyright law, especially in view of today’s peer- to-peer (P2P) networks. If you use WNCC’s network to access, download, upload, or otherwise share copyrighted materials without permission, without making a fair use, or without falling under another exception under copyright law, you are likely infringing copyright law.
In general, copyright infringement occurs when a person makes a copy of any copyrighted work, such as music, video, software, cartoons, photographs, stories, or novels, without permission (i.e., a license) from the copyright owner and without falling within the specific exceptions provided for under the copyright laws. These exceptions include, without limitation, “fair use,” which is briefly described below, and provisions of the Audio Home Recording Act, which allow for noncommercial copying of lawfully acquired music onto recordable compact discs (CD-Rs).
Copyright Infringement and P2P File Sharing
Peer-to-peer (P2P) computing is a powerful technology that has many uses. P2P networks
are often used to illegally share and exchange music, movies, software, and other
electronic materials. The use of P2P networks to upload, download, or share copyrighted
material, such as movies, music, and software, can violate the rights of copyright
owners. In the P2P file-sharing context, infringement may occur. For example, when
one person purchases an authorized copy and then knowingly or not, uploads it to a
P2P network. An infringement may occur when one person purchases a CD, creates an
MP3 or other digital copy, and then uses a P2P network to share that digital copy
with others. In this case, both the individual who makes the file available and those
making copies may be found to have infringed the rights of the copyright owner(s)
and may be violating federal copyright law. In some minor instances, artists and smaller
labels release music under “generous” licenses, such as the Creative Commons license.
Yet, most all of the major labels consider sharing MP3 files of their music over P2P
networks as copyright infringement.
WNCC advises all computer users to refrain from the use of and cautions against installing P2P software. If installing on your own equipment we caution you to read all user agreements carefully beforehand. Make sure you read all available documentation from the P2P software provider. Understand how the P2P software is configured and operates.
Be forewarned, some P2P programs have default settings that index the files on your
computer and offer the music or film files that you have acquired legitimately available
to other users of the P2P network. In such cases, you may unwittingly participate
in copyright infringement. In this context, not being aware that your computer is
making files available to other users may not be a defense to copyright infringement.
You are responsible for all activity that occurs on your own computer and the devices
that are registered to you.
Infringing conduct exposes the infringer to the risk of serious legal penalties, both civil and criminal. Civil penalties may include actual damages and profits, or statutory damages (ranging from $750 to $30,000 per work that is infringed). Moreover, the court can also award reasonable attorney’s fees and costs and increase the damages in the case of a willful infringement. Criminal penalties can include fines and imprisonment.
Organizations such as the RIAA and the MPAA monitor P2P networks, obtaining “snapshots” of users’ Internet protocol (IP) addresses. They record the files that users are downloading or uploading from their P2P directories. They document the time that downloading or uploading occurs and the Internet service provider (ISP) through which the files travel.
Copyright owners target both those who upload music over the P2P network and those who download from the network. In addition to monitoring networks and obtaining IP address “snapshots,” copyright owners may use the P2P networks themselves and upload copyrighted content while keeping a legal record of the downloading actions of other users.
Once this information has been obtained, the RIAA, MPAA, and other copyright owners and their representatives can file a “John Doe” lawsuit and issue a subpoena to the ISP demanding the identity of the user connected to that IP address at the time of the infraction.
Copyright Infringement Notifications
As an ISP for its students, faculty, and staff, WNCC may receive notices from the RIAA or MPAA identifying the IP addresses of WNCC account holders believed to be sharing copies of copyrighted music and videos without authorization. WNCC reserves the right to demand that the infringing conduct cease immediately. In serious situations, further disciplinary sanctions may also be appropriate.
The RIAA or MPAA often presents an option for the alleged illegal file sharer to settle the lawsuit out of court for a given amount of money. If the user is determined to have infringed copyrights, whether through P2P networks or other means, and has not settled, he or she may also be subject to sanctions such as monetary damages and the required destruction of all unauthorized copies. In certain circumstances, federal authorities can criminally prosecute copyright infringement. By participating in illegal file sharing, you may be subject to a lawsuit even after you have destroyed any illegal copy or copies of copyrighted material that were in your possession.
Copyright law does not provide a blanket exception from liability for college students based solely upon their status as students. There are limited circumstances where use of copyrighted materials without permission is allowable. One of these circumstances is under the legal doctrine of “fair use,” such as for purposes of news reporting, criticism, commentary, or teaching. Whether use of copyrighted material without permission is “fair use” depends on a very detailed, case-by-case analysis of various factors. For a better understanding of these factors, please visit the U.S. Library of Congress website, copyright.gov.
There Is an Alternative: Legal Downloading
When you buy music or movies online or buy a CD or DVD, it is important to understand the answers to the following questions:
What permissions come with the product? These range from very broad Creative Commons
permissions, which allow for redistribution under certain conditions, to very restrictive
requirements, which allow play on only one machine, or allow only streaming, etc.
It is incumbent upon you to understand the permissions.
What digital restrictions, if any, are used with the product? Many services use digital rights management (DRM) technology to control the use of the music or other digital works they sell. DRM usually reflects the permissions and can range from allowing unlimited burns to CD to preventing any copying at all. DRM models can also limit what kind of devices you can play the music on. DRM with a subscription-based model may render the music unplayable if the subscription is not maintained. Some services do not use DRM.
In conclusion, please be aware that sharing music, videos, software, and other copyrighted material may be a violation of law. You and those with whom you share materials, could be exposed to civil and criminal penalties. Please use copyrighted materials responsibly and in accordance with the law.