File Sharing/p2p (Peer-to-peer)
This information is not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of copyright law; it is intended to provide you with basic information to help you understand the differences between legal and illegal file sharing.
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 WOU computer account holder who infringes copyright laws risks a lawsuit by the copyright holder, loss of access to the WOU computer system, and disciplinary action by WOU.
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.
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.
WOU prohibits any infringement of intellectual property rights by any member of the WOU community. It is against WOU policy to participate in the violation of the intellectual property rights of others. WOU’s Acceptable Use Policy can be found at:
Understanding Copyright Infringement
WOU is committed to the education of its students. Over the past few years, WOU 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 WOU 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 violations of federal copyright law, especially with regard to peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. If you use WOU’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 (i.e., a license) 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(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.
WOU advises all computer 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 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.
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 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, WOU receives notices from the RIAA and MPAA identifying the IP addresses of WOU users believed to be sharing copies of copyrighted music and videos without authorization. WOU reserves the right to demand that the infringing conduct cease immediately; where necessary, WOU will revoke the identified individual’s access to the WOU computer system. In serious situations, further disciplinary sanctions may also 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 any illegal copy or copies of copyrighted material that were in your possession.
Upon receiving a DMCA notices, WOU immediately removes the associated host from the network.
Procedure for Resident Copyright Infringement Violations:
1. Residential Computing generates an Incident Report.
2. Letter is sent to student notifying student of the violation and requesting that they schedule an appointment to meet with their Area Coordinator.
3. Student meets with Area Coordinator to discuss report.
4. Area Coordinator upholds or drops allegations.
5. If allegations are upheld, sanctions are assigned.
Sanctions are assigned as follows:
|1st Offense||2nd Offense||3rd Offense|
|Removal of file sharing software (meet with John Rushing)
RH Probation, two terms
Loss of network privileges for 45 days
|Removal from halls*
Loss of privileges indefinitely
|Referral to Dean of Students/SCC
Deferred Suspension or Suspension
Non-residents may have their WOU AD (Active Directory) access revoked for a period of time, upon having all file-sharing programs removed. Additional sanctions may be applied.
If a student does not complete a sanction, a judicial hold is placed on their account. A judicial hold will prevent them from conducting most forms of business with the University including registering for classes. The student must complete their outstanding sanction before the hold will be removed.
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 detailed, case-by-case analysis of various factors. For a better understanding of these factors, please visit the U.S. Library of Congress website,
- Digital Millennium Copyright Act, signed into law October 28, 1998
- Infringement notifications
- Higher Education Opportunity Act
Legal Alternatives to Copyright Infringement
There are many websites that offer legitimate streaming of audio and video content, as well as many sites that offer legal downloads for a fee.