Peer-to-Peer File Sharing and Copyright Law

Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under section 106 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code). These rights include the right to reproduce or distribute a copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority constitutes an infringement.

Penalties for copyright infringement include civil and criminal penalties. In general, anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or “statutory” damages affixed at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed. For “willful” infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed. A court can, in its discretion, also assess costs and attorneys’ fees. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504 and 505.

Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense.

Combating Copyright Infringement

The College of Coastal Georgia is committed to creating, discovering, and sharing knowledge and information. The College is also committed to taking reasonable steps to avoid misuse of its computer network, including use of the computer network to violate the copyright law of the United States. All students, faculty, and staff should have a basic understanding of the copyright law.

It is illegal to make an electronic copy (including downloading) of any movie or song or video or image without the express permission of the owner even, if an individual has purchased a tape or CD with the video or music on it. If the individual makes an electronic copy (including downloading one from another machine by file sharing), it is illegal to distribute that copy. Distribution means a person let others download a copy of the file from his or her machine. Since musicians, record companies and movie producers are all trying to SELL their work, a person is, in effect, stealing (not paying for) what they own and then giving it away to others for free.

The College’s policies prohibit copyright infringement of any kind. When an employee or student participates in file sharing without securing permission, he or she puts themselves at risk for legal action taken against them by the copyright owners. In addition, this behavior puts the College at risk because the institution’s computing resources are being used for illegal activities.

Recently, there has been growing concern about the use of campus computer networks to reproduce and distribute commercial copyrighted music, movies, and software. Campus computer networks are often used to reproduce and distribute copyrighted music, movies, television shows, pictures, and software through the use of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. P2P file sharing applications allow a computer to connect to a P2P network, and once connected, make it possible to download and share files with other users on the network. P2P networking has been around for many years, but file sharing applications such as LimeWire, KaZaA and BitTorrent have made it easy to trade files with people around the world.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been very active in pursuing litigation against who they have determined to be sharing files illegally. In the first round of lawsuits filed in the spring of 2003, four students reached out-of-court settlements ranging between $12,000 to $17,000 for their infringement which involved hosting local campus file sharing networks. Since then, the RIAA has launched thousands of copyright infringement lawsuits against alleged file-swappers. The average cost of settling those actions is $3,000.

In addition to potential lawsuits, P2P file sharing software is increasingly causing serious problems for users. The most common effects are inability to go to desired Web sites, unwanted pop-ups, and a very slow computer. Simply removing the sharing software is usually not enough to cure the problems; Spybot and similar tools are often needed to cleanse computers of the “spyware” secretly installed by P2P programs. Solving P2P-related problems can consume inordinate technical support time – a sad waste of College resources – not to mention the losses suffered by computer owners.

This web site is intended to answer some frequently asked questions about the application of the copyright law to peer-to-peer file sharing. Members of the College community should be aware that unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject them to civil and / or criminal liabilities.

Notice to Students

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 contains several requirements intended to reduce unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyrighted works through peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing on campus networks.

The College of Coastal Georgia is providing you this notice in compliance with sections 485 and 487 of that legislation and you are STRONGLY ADVISED to read it thoroughly and give it careful consideration.

The College provides a variety of information technology resources to help you accomplish your educational goals. When you use them, you agree to abide by the College’s computer usage policy. More specifically, you agree not to use College resources for unauthorized duplication, use, or distribution of copyrighted materials, including music and video files. The College considers unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted music and videos to be an inappropriate use of its network resources. Moreover, such activity is illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and exposes you to serious civil and criminal penalties.

The DMCA is a federal law that criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, and services intended to circumvent copyright protections. In addition, the DMCA heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet. Criminal penalties for first-time offenders can include fines of up to $250,000 and incarceration for up to five years. In civil court, damages of up to $150,000 are possible for EACH movie or song that has been illegally acquired or shared.

In December 2008, the Recording Industry Association of America (“RIAA”) announced that it was abandoning its longstanding practice of filing law suits against students for infringing copyrights via illegal file sharing. The RIAA had reportedly filed over 17,500 lawsuits through early 2008. Despite the new moratorium on law suits, the RIAA’s aggressive enforcement campaign continues on other fronts and the College urges all students to refrain from copyright infringing behavior.

The College will monitor the content of network transmissions as necessary to identify and repel network attacks, viruses, worms, and other malware. However, many P2P networks are used almost exclusively for illegal file sharing and are also favorite channels for spreading malware due to their popularity and pervasiveness. To mitigate these threats, the College employs various methods to block illegitimate P2P network traffic at the perimeter of its network. Note, however, that these methods are not 100% effective and all P2P traffic is not blocked at all times. Students should assume that P2P file sharing activity on the campus network is visible to the RIAA and other content owners that monitor the Internet for copyright infringement activity.

Copyright Law and Policy Links