Peer-to-Peer File Sharing and Copyright Law
The University of Vermont is devoted to creating, discovering, and sharing knowledge and information. UVM is also committed to taking reasonable steps to avoid misuse of its computer network, including use of the computer network to violate the Copyright Law of the United States. All students, faculty, and staff should have a basic understanding of the Copyright Law. To assist the University community in the proper use of the campus computer network, a copyright and fair use guide is available, and the Computer, Communication, and Network Technology Acceptable Use Policy has been posted on the University's web site.
Recently, there has been growing concern about the use of campus
computer networks to reproduce and distribute commercial copyrighted
music, movies, and software. In spite of court rulings holding that it
is illegal, some people have continued to engage in
so-called peer-to-peer (“P2P”) sharing of commercial copyrighted
products, using software programs such as Morpheus, Limewire, Grokster, and
This activity is unlawful.
In April, 2003, the Recording
Industry Association of America filed civil suits against students at
Michigan Tech, Princeton University, and Rennselaer Polytechnic
Institute, seeking substantial damages for copyright infringement.
Those cases were quickly settled, with each of the student defendants
agreeing to pay more than $12,000 in damages. Hundreds of suits
been filed since then, and many people, including university students,
have paid thousands of dollars in settlements to the RIAA. There
pressure on universities to take action against copyright violations,
especially those attributable to P2P.
Fears of lawsuits aside, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing software is
increasingly causing serious problems for users.
The most common effects are inability to go to desired Web sites,
unwanted pop-ups, and a very slow computer. Simply removing the
sharing software is usually not enough to cure the problems; Spybot and
similar tools are often needed to cleanse computers of the "spyware"
secretly installed by P2P programs. Solving P2P-related problems
is consuming inordinate technical support time -- a sad waste of
University funds and resources -- not to mention the losses
suffered by computer owners. For more information on spyware, see
This Web site answers some frequently asked questions about the
application of the Copyright Law to peer-to-peer file sharing.
Members of the UVM community should be aware that unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject them to civil and criminal liabilities.
Summary of Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright LawsCopyright 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.
Last modified November 18 2011 04:26 PM