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Risks of illegal file sharing

Contrary to what many students believe, US federal law treats the unauthorized uploading, downloading, or sharing of copyrighted material as a serious offense that carries serious consequences. Any EMU electronic account holder who infringes copyright laws risks a lawsuit by the copyright holder, loss of access to the EMU network and disciplinary action by EMU.

In recent years, copyright holders and their trade associations 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 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 internet service providers to combat illegal file sharing.

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 dames 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, Section 504, 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. For more information, see the website of the US Copyright Office.

EMU prohibits any infringement of intellectual property rights by any member of the EMU community. It is against EMU policy to participate in the violation of the intellectual property rights of others. Use of EMU's technology resources requires agreement with the terms of the Technology Code of Responsibility.

Understanding copyright infringement

EMU is committed to the education of its students. Over the past few years, EMU has increased its efforts to make students aware of the policies that govern the use of its computing facilities and and systems and to encourage the responsible use of EMU computing resources. These efforts include providing information about copyright laws, particularly with regard to file sharing.

In order to protect you and the university from legal actions, we want to help you better understand the acts that constitute violation of federal copyright law, especiall with regard to peer to peer (P2P) networks. If you use EMU'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 whenever someone makes a copy of any copyrighted work, such as songs, videos, software, cartoons, photographs, stories, or novels without permission from the copyright owner.

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 then uploads it to a P2P network. 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, both the individual who makes the file available and those making copies may be found to have infringed the rights of the copyright owner 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.

EMU advises all electronic account holders to use extreme caution when installing P2P software. Some P2P programs have default settings that index the files on your computer and make music or film files that you have legitimated 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 defnese to copyright infringement.

You are responsible for all activity that transpires through your electronic account and the devices that are registered to you.

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 services provider (ISP) through which the files travel.

Copyright owners have been known to target both those who upload music over the P2P network and those who download from the network. Once an IP address and other information have been obtained, the RIAA, MPAA, and other copyright owners and their representatives can file a 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, EMU receives notices from the RIAA and MPAA identifying the IP addresses of EMU users believed to be sharing copies of copyrighted music and videos without authorization. EMU reserves the right to demand that the infringing conduct cease immediately; where necessary, EMU will revoke the identified individual's access to all or portions of the EMU network. 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 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 the illegal copy or copies of copyrighted material that were in your possession.

Upon receiving a DMCA notice, EMU immediately removes internet access of the associated host on the network.

Procedure for copyright infringement violation notifications:

  1. Information systems will research the alleged violation and document that the internal and external IP address corresponds with the notice.
  2. Information systems will restrict the student's IP address to prevent file sharing while allowing them to access EMU resources.
  3. Student life will meet with the student to explain the situation and require that the student remove P2P software.
  4. Information systems will remove the IP restriction after the student has removed the P2P software. The student will need to bring the computer to information systems for determination that the software has been removed. 
  5. Information systems and student life will keep documentation on the actions that were taken. The first incident will be recorded in their student life file as a warning only. Subsequent incidents will be recorded in their student life file as infractions and the student will need to pay $15 to have internet access restored.

Fair use

Copyright law provides no blanket exception from liability for university 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 detail, case by case analysis of various factors.