File sharing is making files available for other individuals to download. It can be as innocent as accessing work files from your home computer or sharing documents you created on your web page. The controversial aspects of file sharing involve peer-to-peer or P2P software such as Morpheus or KaZaa. These programs and their users can be sharing copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright owners.
What’s Wrong With P2P File Sharing?
By sharing copyrighted materials over the Internet without the consent of the copyright owner, the distributor (using any server including your personal computer) may be violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (“DMCA”). Most of the software, games, songs, and videos obtained through P2P programs are being shared illegally.
Since 2003, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has sued tens of thousands of people for alleged file sharing of copyrighted material. You may be at risk of litigation if you share files illegally or even if you appear to do so. Violators of the DMCA can be punished (link: http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf) by substantial fines and even sentenced to prison. Individuals also may be held civilly liable (regardless of whether the activity is for profit) for actual damages or lost profits, or for statutory damages up to $150,000 per infringed copyright.
In addition, you could be violating the University Administrative Procedure 29.01.06.P1.20 Information Resources – Acceptable Use and University Administrative Procedure 29.01.06.P1.21 Information Resources – Peer-to-Peer File Sharing or Rules For Responsible Student Computing (https://www.pvamu.edu/sa/student-conduct/)
File Sharers Beware
Many downloadable P2P file-sharing programs automatically set up your computer to share files without your explicit knowledge or consent. You may then be violating the DMCA, even for downloading just a single song.
For someone who downloads and shares just a small number of copyrighted files on the Internet without permission of the owner, odds have increased that you will be identified and sued by the copyright holder. New Internet businesses have been formed whose sole function is to search out IP addresses that appear to be sharing unauthorized copyrighted materials. Yes, they’re out to get you; it’s their business.
Don’t think that because your file-sharing days occurred years ago that you’re in the clear. Individuals have even been sued now for allegedly engaging in suspect behavior over three years ago.
Risks With P2P File Sharing
In addition to legal issues, P2P file sharing can put your computer at risk.
- Downloaded files often contain malware, which can infect users’ computers with Trojans or worms.
- To share files on your computer or access files on other computers within a P2P network, you generally must authorize access through your firewall. This exposes your system to potentially malicious traffic from the Internet that would otherwise be blocked by the firewall.
- Inappropriate settings on your P2P file sharing application or misplacing a file in the wrong folder could also lead to the accidental exposure of your personal or confidential information.
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