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Peer-to-Peer File Sharing & Copyright Infringement
This document is presented to students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) to provide information about the lawful use of copyrighted materials on UMB’s computing networks and in UMB facilities, as well as to provide information about the consequences of illegally uploading, downloading, and sharing music, games, and movies.
This document is not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of the copyright laws; it is intended to provide basic information to help you understand the differences between legal and illegal file sharing. You are urged to print a copy of this document and read it carefully.
In the past, many students have ignored the information provided to them about the consequences of illegal file sharing and, as a result, have been sued and had to pay thousands of dollars in financial settlements for infringing on the copyrights of music and movie companies.
Risks of illegal file sharing
Contrary to what many students believe, U.S. federal law treats the unauthorized uploading, downloading, or sharing of copyrighted material as a serious offense that carries serious consequences. Any UMB computer account holder who infringes copyright laws risks a lawsuit by the copyright holder, loss of access to the UMB computer system, and disciplinary action by UMB.
In recent years, copyright holders and their trade associations — especially the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) — have aggressively pursued copyright holders’ rights and have been increasingly focused on university students. In some cases, the cost of settlement has ranged from approximately $3,000 to $8,000 or more for the initial offense, which may have been no more than the download of a single song, to upwards of such amounts for subsequent offenses. You also risk a possible criminal record by participating in infringing behavior. In December 2008, the RIAA announced a change in strategy and said that it would begin to work with ISPs to combat illegal file sharing.
UMB prohibits any infringement of intellectual property rights by any member of the UMB community. It is against UMB policy to participate in the violation of the intellectual property rights of others. Please refer to UMB’s policies regarding use of UMB computing resources: UMB IT Acceptable Use Policy and UMB IT Residential Network (ResNet) Policy.
UMB is committed to the education of its students. Over the past few years, UMB has increased its efforts to make students aware of the policies that govern the use of its computing facilities and systems and to encourage the responsible use of UMB computing resources. These efforts include providing information about copyright laws, particularly with regard to file sharing.
To protect you and the university from legal actions, we want to help you better understand the acts that constitute violations of federal copyright law, especially with regard to peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. If you use UMB’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 laws.
In general, copyright infringement occurs when someone makes a copy of any copyrighted work, such as songs, videos, 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).
P2P file sharing and copyright infringement
Peer-to-peer (P2P) computing is a powerful technology that has many uses. P2P networks can be used to 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 uploads it to a P2P network. When one person purchases a CD, creates an MP3 or other digital copy, and uses a P2P network to share that digital copy with others, 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.
Although some artists and smaller labels release music under "generous" licenses, such as Creative Commons licenses, all of the major labels consider sharing MP3 files of their music over P2P networks as copyright infringement.
UMB advises all computer account holders to use extreme caution when installing P2P software and to read all user agreements carefully beforehand. Make sure that you read all available documentation from the P2P software provider and understand how the P2P software is configured and operates.
Some P2P programs have default settings that index the files on your computer and make music or film files that you have legitimately acquired available to other users of the P2P network without your being aware of the activity. 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 transpires through your computing account and the devices that are registered to you.
Infringing conduct exposes the infringer to the risk of serious legal penalties, 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 also can 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, the files that users are downloading or uploading from their P2P directories, the time that downloading or uploading occurs, and the internet service provider (ISP) through which the files travel.
Copyright owners have been known to target 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 have been known to use P2P networks themselves, uploading copyrighted content while keeping a legal record of the downloading actions of other users.
Once an IP address and other information have 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.
Copyright infringement notifications
As an ISP for its students, faculty, and staff, UMB receives notices from the RIAA and MPAA identifying the IP addresses of UMB account holders believed to be sharing copies of copyrighted music and videos without authorization. UMB reserves the right to demand that the infringing conduct cease immediately; where necessary, UMB will revoke the identified individual’s access to the UMB computer system. In serious situations, further disciplinary sanctions may be appropriate.
The RIAA or MPAA has often presented an option for the alleged illegal file sharer to settle the lawsuit out of court for some 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 also may 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. For more information about the different types of notices related to copyright infringement, see Attachment A.
Copyright law provides no blanket exception from liability for university students based solely upon their status as students. There are limited circumstances in which the 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 detailed, case-by-case analysis of various factors. For a better understanding of these factors, visit the U.S. Library of Congress website.
There is an alternative: legal downloading
For legal alternatives to copyright infringement and more information about copyright compliance, please visit the EDUCAUSE website.
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 also can 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, you need to be aware that sharing music, videos, software, and other copyrighted material may be a violation of law and can expose you and those with whom you share materials to civil and criminal penalties. Please be responsible in your use of copyrighted materials.
Types of Copyright Infringement Notifications
Copyright holders and organizations that represent copyright holders, such as the RIAA and MPAA, typically send out three different types of communications related to copyright infringement:
- Cease and desist, or copyright infringement, notices – The purpose of these notices is to stop the illegal possession and distribution of copyrighted material. When the Center for Information Technology Services (CITS) receives these notices from copyright holders or their representatives, CITS contacts the user whose Internet Protocol (IP) address has been identified in the notice. CITS notifies the user that illegal copies of copyrighted materials must be destroyed.
- Pre-litigation notices – These letters are used by copyright holders and their representatives prior to filing a lawsuit to recover, by way of a settlement, financial damages caused by the illegal distribution of copyrighted material. If you have been identified as participating in the illegal downloading or uploading of copyrighted materials, you may receive one of these notices, even if you have already destroyed your copy (or copies) of the material(s) in question.
- Subpoenas – These notices indicate that the copyright holder has filed a lawsuit to recover damages for the illegal distribution of copyrighted material. If the court finds you liable, you will be subject to fines and penalties.
UMB prohibits the use of its computing resources to conduct illegal activity. The university complies with applicable federal, state, and local laws and requires that users do the same. In receiving a UMB computing account, users agree to obey the university’s computing policies and the laws referenced by these policies. Users are responsible for all activity that transpires through their computing accounts and the devices that are registered to them.