Illegal Sharing of Copyrighted Music & Video

Is it illegal to have copyrighted music, films, video files on my computer?

With broadband Internet connection and with such programs as FrostWire, BearShare, BitTorrent, and eMule, it takes very little effort for someone to download songs, movies, television shows, or computer games. Sometimes, because it is easy to download copyrighted materials, it is tempting to believe it is legal to do so. But, it is only legal to download copyrighted materials under a few (rare) conditions:

  1. If the copyrighted material is in the public domain (Public Domain means that the copyright has either expired or was never claimed. If you cannot find a copyright notice, it is smart to assume that a work has been copyrighted—since nearly all music, videos and movies are copyrighted).
  2. If the copyrighted holder has given you permission (not likely for music and movies which are often sold for profit). The notable exception is artists who allow distribution of their work through Creative Commons Licensing.
  3. If you are making a copy under the fair use clause exception for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, scholarly or instructional purposes. (once again, not likely for the recreational enjoyment of music or movies...because fair use only allows for the legal duplication of a small portion of the work...almost never the entire song, movie, or video).
  4. If you have legally purchased a copy of the song or movie.
    In most cases, the legal way to enjoy music, movies, or TV shows is to purchase a CD, DVD, or download a file through a legitimate music service such as like iTunes. For a full list of legal sources of music and media, please visit Educause Legal Sources of Online Content.

Is it illegal to share music, movies, or video files?

In most cases, it is illegal. When you purchase a media file (such as a movie or a music file), you are not actually purchasing the file itself. Rather, you are purchasing the media and an agreement to use that file in a specific way. This agreement (or a license) almost never allows you to facilitate the distribution (or copying) of that file to other users.

Unfortunately, if you have music (or other copyrighted materials) on a computer along with a file sharing application like BitTorrent, you may be facilitating the distribution of those files to others on the Internet—without even knowing about it. Programs like BitTorrent are configured to search and share media files on your hard-drive with other Internet users. As a result, if you have a file sharing application on your may be breaking copyright law without even realizing it. ITS advises all University users to remove file sharing (peer2peer) applications from your computer

What does this all mean?

Over the last several years, groups like the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) have been targeting campuses and college students with law suits. They have been scanning and tracking computer users who illegally share copyrighted materials. Alfred University is required by law to cooperate in pursuit of alleged violations. Alfred ITS responds to RIAA notifications by suspending Internet access to those computers on our network that appear to be illegally sharing copyrighted material.

What could happen to me?

If you lose internet connectivity and your browser is redirected to a page that says “Alfred University - Information Security...”, then ITS has received a notification that your computer is illegally sharing copyrighted material. Please follow the directions on the “Alfred University—Information Security” page and ITS will once again restore your Internet connectivity. In addition, if you have more than one occurrence, you may be referred to the Dean of Student Experience, who may require that you take a cyber-citizenship tutorial on how to be a responsible and ethical citizen of the Internet. You may also be liable for criminal and civil penalties from the RIAA and MPAA.

How can I prevent this from happening to me?

If you don’t want your Internet connectivity suspended (and be reported to the Dean of Student Experience), Alfred University ITS advises all campus users to remove all file sharing applications from your computer. At the very least, campus computing users should proactively disable “sharing” on file sharing applications. The details of disabling file sharing are specific to the application you are running. Please check with the documentation that came with your file sharing application or call, write, or stop into ITS Helpdesk and we will be able to assist you with this process. You can email the Helpdesk or call 607-871-2222. Please also feel free to stop by the helpdesk on the ground floor of Herrick Library for more information.

Updated 3/2011