File-sharing, the law, and Augsburg’s network

File-sharing is a hot topic on college campuses; it has an effect on the campus network, and legal implications as well. Here’s what you need to know about filesharing programs, the law, and using Augsburg’s network.

Contents

How do file-sharing programs work?
How can I tell if my computer is distributing files?
How do I stop my computer from distributing files?
What is the DMCA?
What does it mean if the IT department receives a “copyright complaint”?
How does the entertainment industry find out who is downloading their songs, movies, or other digital content?
What happens if the IT department receives a copyright complaint about my computer?
Has anyone at Augsburg been sued for sharing copyrighted files?
What are the consequences if the music industry sues me?

Questions and Answers

How do file-sharing programs work?

Most file-sharing programs are “peer-to-peer” programs. This means that rather than having one central repository for all the files available for download, the program keeps track of what files all of its users have. When you download a file using a peer-to-peer program, you’re not getting that file from a central server – you’re getting it from someone like you who also has that program installed on their computer. Everyone using the program shares their files with everyone else; thus the term “file-sharing”.

The settings in your file-sharing program determine which files you are sharing with others. If the settings are configured incorrectly, you could end up sharing your entire hard drive — a big security risk for you.

How can I tell if my computer is distributing files?

Most file-sharing programs have a configuration panel where you can designate how many people can get files from you at once (your upload capacity) and which directories are shared. If your upload capacity is greater than 0, and if any directories are shared, then other people can download files from your computer. If you aren’t sure where to find these preferences, check the Help feature or the online user manual for the program you are using.

Note: Some programs use 0 to mean unlimited instead of meaning 0.  It will often appear like this [0: unlimited] next to the settings.  Make sure that if you have set something to 0 it means 0 and not unlimited.

How do I stop my computer from distributing files?

The exact configuration depends on which file-sharing program you are using. Consult the Help feature or the online user manual for your program. To be absolutely sure that you’re not distributing files, you can always uninstall your file-sharing program.

Note: It is not possible to turn off “sharing” in a bittorrent program. While you are downloading anything in a bittorrent program (e.g. uTorrent, Bitcomet, Azureus, etc.) the item you are downloading is being shared with other computers.  Your computer continues to share those files as long as you are online, even after you have finished downloading them.

What is the DMCA?

DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA was signed into law in 1998, and contains regulations relating to several areas of copyright law. The regulation that most directly affects filesharing on campus states that an internet service provider (ISP) may be held liable for activities (that infringe copyrights) on its network if it does not take action to block access to infringing material when notified.

Augsburg College is an ISP to everyone using its network, thus this provision applies to the college.

What does it mean if the IT department receives a “copyright complaint”?

Industry groups like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sometimes send notices to internet service providers informing them that someone on their network is allowing others to download copyrighted files from them – a violation of copyright law. Because Augsburg College is an ISP for people using the campus network, we sometimes receive such notices.

How does the entertainment industry find out who is downloading their songs, movies, or other digital content?

Every computer on the internet uses a unique numerical address called an IP number or IP address. Your computer’s IP address varies, depending on which internet service provider you connect through. Any time two computers connect to one another online, they exchange IP addresses. This means anyone (including industry groups) on a file-sharing network can find the IP address of a computer that is sharing copyrighted files.

Groups of IP addresses are registered to different internet service providers. Once an industry group finds the IP address of someone who is sharing copyrighted files, they can search the registration database to find out which internet service provider the infringer is using. Usually, they cannot trace an IP address directly to an individual without the cooperation of the internet service provider – which is where the DMCA comes in.

What happens if the IT department receives a copyright complaint about my computer?

As an internet service provider, Augsburg College is subject to the DMCA and is required to take certain steps to protect itself when we are made aware of a copyright violation on our network.

If we receive a complaint about the IP address assigned to your computer we take the following action:

First Offense

  • We will block your computer’s internet connection.
  • We will send you an e-mail to let you know we’ve received a complaint and instruct you on what to do next.
  • You will need to remove the offending file and change the settings in your file-sharing program so that others can no longer download files from your computer.
  • You will have to make an appointment to meet with a member of IT staff. He or she will inspect your computer to verify that the infringing file has been removed and the settings have been changed before we restore your network connection.

Second Offense

  • We will block your computer’s internet connection.
  • We will send you e-mail to let you know we’ve received a complaint and instruct you on what to do next.
  • You will need to remove the offending file and change the settings in your file-sharing program so that others can no longer download files from your computer.
  • You will have to make an appointment to meet with a member of IT staff. He or she will inspect your computer to verify that the infringing file has been removed and the settings have been changed before we restore your network connection.
  • We will also strongly recommend that you consider removing the filesharing program from your computer to protect yourself from future violations.

Third Offense

  • You will be referred to the Vice President for Student Affairs for disciplinary action.

Has anyone at Augsburg been sued for sharing copyrighted files?

Yes. This is confirmed in an RIAA press release dated September 30, 2004.

What are the consequences if the music industry sues me?

Many people who have been sued have settled with the industries to avoid going to court. While statistics on the amounts of these settlements are difficult to find, the average settlement seems to be in the range of $3000.

The law provides for a minimum payment of $750 per infringing item if a case is tried in civil court. That means that if a court found you had illegally downloaded or shared 30 copyrighted songs, the minimum you would have to pay in damages would be $22,500.

On October 4, 2007, a Duluth woman (sued by the RIAA) was found guilty of violating copyright law for sharing 24 songs from her computer. The jury ordered her to pay over $9000 for each song, for a total of $222,000!

Whether you choose to settle or go to court, you will probably have lawyers’ fees to pay (in addition to any settlement or fines), along with the hassle of dealing with the entire process.

Search for answers in our knowledgebase