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.
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 KaZaA. 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 US$12,000 in damages. Hundreds of suits have been filed since then, and many people, including university students, have paid thousands of dollars in settlements to the RIAA. There is increasing 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 the 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 the Wikipedia Spyware article.
This Web site answers some frequently asked questions about the application of the Copyright Law to peer-to-peer file sharing.
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 US$750 and not more than US$30,000 per work infringed. For "willful" infringement, a court may award up to US$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 US$250,000 per offense.
Additional copyright information resources include:
- Music and the Internet (RIAA)
- Copyright in Cyberspace
- Fair Use (Stanford University)
- Computer Policy and Law [PDF, 2002]
- Intellectual Property
- Copyright Clearance Center
For more information, please see the Web site of the U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov, especially their FAQ.