Commonly Asked Questions
How does the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) affect me?
The distribution of copyrighted material from your computer, including music, games, and videos, for which you do not have owner’s permission is a violation of federal law (DMCA) and college policy. A purpose of copyright law, including the DMCA, is to encourage creative work by giving creators exclusive rights (with some limits) to distribute their products.
What do I need to know about downloading music, videos, games, and other media?
In April, 2003, four college students paid fines ranging from $12,000-$17,500 in a settlement of a file-sharing suit brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The RIAA complained that the students were illegally distributing copyrighted music, sharing thousands of copyrighted MP3 music files.
Downloading files puts you at risk personally if you are found to possess copyrighted material that you have not obtained legally. It may also result in harm to your system if you download a malicious computer program disguised as a movie or other media. The widespread use of file-sharing programs to download and distribute media for recreational purposes has generated a high volume of network traffic and damaged the performance of other applications used for college work. To preserve bandwidth, the college uses a technique called “bandwidth shaping” to limit network traffic for specific peer-to-peer programs.
If you are using a peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing program1 or have set up an ftp server, make sure that you are not “serving” copyright-protected materials to the world. If the College is notified by policing organizations such as the RIAA, MPAA, or their agents2 that you are serving copyright-protected materials from your computer, you will be requested to appear at College’s Discipline Office to discuss the complaint. Failure to appear could result in deactivation of your college privileges.
Is it ok to use a peer-to-peer service legally to download files that aren’t protected by copyright?
Many music, games, and videos downloaded through file-sharing programs fall into the category of copyright infringement. That is, the users downloading the files do not have the permission of the copyright owner. In addition, peer-to-peer file-sharing programs do not determine whether requests for media files are requests for copyright-licensed or freely-sharable materials. This means that if you copy music to your computer from a CD you purchased and are signed on to a peer-to-peer service with file-sharing enabled; you are making the copyrighted music you purchased available to others. YOU are distributing copyrighted material and the copyright owner can hold you liable for a copyright violation. Copyright owners frequently hire agents to scan college networks for copyright materials that are available to others from computer systems on the college network. The College receives many notices from these organizations alleging copyright infringement. They focus on college campuses because of the high level of file-sharing activity. The DMCA makes Internet Service Providers (ISPs) liable if they do not act to ensure removal of infringing materials when they receive notice of copyright infringement. The college is an ISP for many at the college who use campus network services.
The DMCA provides procedures that may be used by ISPs in dealing with claims of copyright infringement. A member of the college community learns that s/he has been named in a notice of copyright infringement when the college IT account access is denied. The deactivation message contains instructions to contact the campus Discipline Officer to discuss the copyright infringement. Access to a college account is reinstated after the meeting with the college Discipline Officer has taken place and the allegedly infringing material has been removed. The college is sensitive to the academic calendar and academic deadlines of the campus community, realizing the impact to academic work that results from deactivating account in response to copyright infringement notices.
Does the DMCA make the use of peer-to-peer services illegal?
It is not against the law or campus policies to use peer-to-peer file-sharing programs or to swap materials that are not copyright-protected. It is against the rules to download and/or distribute copyright-protected material. If you are using a peer-to-peer file-sharing program, make sure that you are not “serving” the copyright-protected materials to the world.
Most file-sharing programs have worldwide file sharing turned on by default when they are installed. If you have copyright-protected materials on your computer, you need to disable file sharing so that the programs are no longer serving these materials from your computer.
There are other good reasons to disable file-sharing. File-sharing sites often covertly package Spyware software that gathers personal information without your knowledge. This means that you may be giving hackers access to your personal files and programs when you use file-sharing services. As stated above, the college network staff restricts P2P traffic to preserve bandwidth for college work.
I don’t like the DMCA: What can I do?
There is a great deal of debate about the DMCA and copyright law in the digital age. If you disagree with the law, learn more about it and become involved in trying to change the law. A Digital Medial Consumers’ Right Act was re-introduced in Congress in January, 2003. This act would make “fair use” exceptions to the DMCA. Supporters of this act include Intel, Verizon, Philips Electronics North America Corporation, Sun Microsystems, Gateway, the Consumer Electronics Association, Computer and Communications Industry Association, the Association for Computing Machinery, the Computer Research Association, and a variety of trade associations representing technology companies, the American Library Association, the American Association of Universities, the National Humanities Alliance, the Digital Future Coalition, the Consumers Union, the Home Recording Rights Coalition, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, the National Writers Union, and other organizations representing the public interest and the consumers of digital media.