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Downloading Music, Videos and Games

If you have a program, application or service on your computer that allows you to get any song, video, game or other entertainment file that you want for free even though you could buy it in the store or online, you are at risk of violating copyright and being discovered and prosecuted.

That program is probably a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) filesharing program and may have a name like BitTorrent, LimeWire, Shareaza, Kazaa, iMesh, Bearshare, eMule, KCeasy, Ares Galaxy, Soulseek, WinMX, Piolet, Gnutella, Overnet, Azureus, Vuze, FrostWire, uTorrent, Morpheus, ANts, or Acquisition and others.

When you use a P2P program to get an entertainment file, you are connecting to the same P2P program of someone like you who has already obtained the file.  Then your P2P program silently and automatically becomes a provider of that file to others on the Internet, without telling you who is getting the file from your computer. That may violate copyright and may be detected by copyright watchdogs.

Copyright owners use those same P2P programs to see who is sharing the entertainment files that they want to protect.  When they find their file being offered on your computer, they will send a complaint to USU demanding its removal.  USU must comply with that request to avoid legal action against the university.

First Infringement:  We will disable network access for the computer identified in the infringement notice and charge you $25 to restore network access.

Second Infringements:  If you are identified in a second complaint after receiving notice of the first complaint, the fee increases to $50 and, for students, the issue will be referred to the Discipline Officer in the Office of Student Services.  Your network access will be restored after payment of the fee and approval from the Discipline Officer.

Third Infringements: If you are identified in a third complaint after receiving notice of the second complaint, the fee increases to $100, your access will be disabled for ALL devices registered in your name and, for students, the issue will be referred to the Discipline Officer. Your network access will be restored after payment of the fee and approval from the Discipline Officer.

The copyright owner might also send USU an "early settlement notice" for USU to forward to you.  The settlement notice will list the protected files that they found on your computer (via your P2P program) and tell you how much they want you to pay them to avoid being sued in Federal Court.  If you don't take their settlement offer (which may be several hundred or several thousand dollars) they will subpoena USU to find out who you are in preparation for suing you.

What can you do to avoid these problems?  The simple answer is: don't use P2P filesharing programs to obtain free copies of entertainment files that are also available for sale.  P2P has legitimate uses: sharing free software and free music from startup bands, for instance.  Even then be careful that your P2P isn't sharing more from your computer than you think.  Even songs that you have paid for and stored on your computer might be shared by a carelessly configured P2P program and that sharing is still a copyright violation.

There are many legal on-line sources of entertainment files which pay royalties to copyright owners by charging modest fees or by selling advertising.

EDUCAUSE also maintains a list of Legal Sources of Online Content

See the new RIAA education campaign.

Other Risks of P2P Programs

  • unintentional sharing of private information - your P2P program might actually offer your homework or email to others
  • Malware - viruses, trojans and worms can be hidden in files that look like entertainment files
  • some P2P program variants can be spyware
  • once installed some P2P programs are very hard to shut down or remove without rebuilding the computer

The US Department of Education provides the following summary of penalties for violation of Federal copyright laws:

Summary of Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws

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, especially their FAQ's at

P2P advice at other schools 

 Stanford University - hey do you think our $50 fee is steep?  Try $100, $500 and $1000 !!!

Cornell University - notifications of copyright violation

Cornell University - copyright education course

University of California, Riverside - DMCA guidelines for Students, Faculty & Staff

Indiana University - Filesharing: Are You legal?

University of Kansas - DMCA and you

Dickinson College - Peer to Peer Use

U Wisconsin - Filesharing video clip

U Massachusetts - copyright quiz

Purdue U - My name is Amber; They got me!

UNC Chapel Hill - What you need to know about filesharing

Educause compilation of Copyright Tutorials

March 2007 - RIAA Pre-Notice Policy

letter from RIAA to University Presidents (pdf)

Background Discussion of Copyright Law and Potential Liability for Students Engaged in P2P File Sharing on University Networks. Nov 2006 (pdf)

pre-settlement instructions

University CIO listserver discussions

RIAA letter to commercial ISPs (not just .edu)

Letter to All Students from the Cornell University IT Policy Office - see what other students are being told about filesharing.

  1. DMCA Compliance
  2. DMCA take-down notice

Utah State University Information Technology