Advice on Peer-to-Peer Filesharing
Peer-to-peer filesharing is a term used to describe
when your computer is sharing files such as music and/or videos to
other personal computers. It is quite simple; it seems like you
can get things for free; it seems like everyone is doing it.
How can it be wrong? Well, it may be. Peer-to-peer filesharing
and the programs that do it have some serious problems.
- Often the files that are shared are copyrighted and thus you are
responsible for the illegal distribution of copyrighted
materials. It is not uncommon for the College to receive
official complaints about specific computers which are
illegally distributing copyrighted materials. For important
information about one of the more aggressive entities fighting
copyright infringement, see:
Copyright infringement by any employee of the College puts both
the College and the employee at risk of being named in a lawsuit.
- It can slow down your computer.
- It can slow down the entire College network.
The sum of a number of users who are peer-to-peer file sharing
severely impacts the College network. If you find
the network slow, peer-to-peer filesharing
is often the primary cause. It does not take that many
abusers to do this.
- Files you obtain may contain viruses or trojan programs that
allow others to take control of your computer.
This can seriously compromise the security of the College
network. Any computer used for any College
administrative purpose must never have had such programs
installed. These programs are difficult to completely
remove and pose unacceptable security risks if they have
ever been installed on a computer.
- You can be sued for a great deal of money.
Running peer-to-peer programs has adverse effects on our network
and incurs risk both for the individual and for the College.
Copyright holders are increasingly seeking legal action and
aggressively pursuing violators.
Penalties can be severe
The Department of Education provided the following text:
Summary of Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright
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, 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, please see the Web site of the
U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov, especially their FAQ's at
www.copyright.gov/help/faq (in a new window or tab).
In April 2003, the Recording Industry Association of
America (RIAA) filed lawsuits against four students at the
following schools: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
[two individuals], Princeton University, and
Michigan Technological University.
Apparently, no warnings were given before the lawsuits were filed.
In April 2004, it was announced that the music industry is
suing 477 more computer users. They have continued this practice.
Students at Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, and UMass have
faced such lawsuits.
In recent years, the RIAA has continued to become more aggressive in its efforts to
curtail copyright infringements (see the information on "early
settlement letters" below). In 2007 more than 10 Mount Holyoke College
students faced RIAA lawsuits.
What you should know
The University of Chicago has some good documents about filesharing
and what you should know:
File sharing and legal alternatives
Sharing legally obtained material
Even if you have obtained music legally, you do not have the right to
distribute that to others. Distributing legally obtained music
may put you at risk of a lawsuit. (Some services such as iTunes
may allow for limited redistribution; you should read license agreements
carefully to be sure.)
legal alternatives for obtaining music, videos, and TV may be found here (opens in new window or tab).
The College network is a shared community resource.
You may be removed from that resource if you do things
- Take more than your fair share of the resource.
- Interfere with others' uses of that resource.
- Allow those outside the College to use College resources.
- Pose a potential security risk to the College network or
computers on that network.
- Engage in illegal activities using College resources.
Copyright violation complaints and quarantining
At Mount Holyoke College, we take copyright violations very
If we receive a credible
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
complaint for a copyright violation,
the computer may be blocked from network access to prevent
further copyright infringement.
If possible, you will be informed of this complaint so that you
can respond appropriately (which usually amounts to removing the
Unfortunately, if we do not know the owner of the blocked
ethernet address (also called "hardware address" or "MAC address"),
we would not be able to inform you of the complaint. In
that case, the helpdesk can help you determine if your ethernet
address is blocked and, if so, have the copyright complaint
notification sent to you.
Lifting the quarantine
To have your machine reinstated for Internet access, the College
must be assured that you are not illegally serving any copyrighted
materials to any other computer, on campus or off.
to reply to all recipients of the notification of copyright violation
complaint, following the instructions in the complaint message.
Legal action and lawsuits
Unlike the copyright infringement complaint described above,
the College may be presented
with a statement of intent to file a lawsuit against an alleged
The RIAA has used these statements of intent to provide a mechanism
for what they call early settlement so that the individual
can avoid a lawsuit. In 2007 we heard that these early settlements
were $3000, but that number could change. The RIAA asserts that
the cost to settle increases if they have to issue a subpoena to
determine the identity the alleged copyright infringer.
If the College receives such a message, we forward the electronic letter
to your College email address so that you can make an informed
decision how to proceed.
The College may be served with a subpoena to reveal the identity
of the individual whose computer was engaged in copyright infringement.
This action is a necessary pre-condition for a lawsuit since the College
does not provide the identity without a subpoena.
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the College is
not a party to any copyright related lawsuits with students. Legally,
the College is functioning as an Internet Service Provider (ISP).
The College is not passing judgement on whether or not the allegations
We are very sorry, but the College is not able to provide any legal advice
on how to proceed. That is up to you. It is important that you read
any information you receive about such matters very carefully.
If you get into this kind of situation, it is best to involve your
family in discussions and consider obtaining legal advice from
your own attorney.
- A copyright infringement warning does not necessarily lead to a lawsuit.
Complying with a warning and ceasing copyright infringement
does not necessarily protect you from a lawsuit for the
copyright infringement. Presumably it does reduce your exposure.
Finally, it is not necessarily the case that you will receive a warning
before a lawsuit is initiated. The first Mount Holyoke student who
was sued did not receive any warning.
Do not be lulled into a sense of security because you see "everyone
doing it". Whether or not others are, it is contrary to current
copyright law and it can have very expensive consequences.