Copyright Law and Peer-to-Peer File Sharing

What is Peer-to-Peer?

Peer-to-Peer (“P2P”) file sharing is a way of exchanging or transferring files over the Internet.  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. Below are examples of P2P programs or networks that allow users to exchange and share files:

  • Ares Galexy
  • BitComet
  • BitTorrent
  • eMule
  • Freenet
  • FrostWire
  • Gnutella
  • Retroshare
  • Tribler
  • uTorrent
  • Vuze

What is wrong with Peer-to-Peer file sharing?

Copyrights help to ensure that authors of creative works can control how those works are used and prevent others from capitalizing on, or using or distributing, the works without permission.  While P2P file sharing programs may be used for legitimate reasons, these programs are overwhelmingly used for the illegal distribution of copyrighted works such as music, movies, software, books, images, and TV programs without permission from the copyright owner.  Sharing any file of a work that you did not create yourself as an original work, is not in the public domain, or for which you do not have permission to share can have serious consequences. In addition to substantial legal risks, P2P programs degrade the speed of the University’s network, and may contain spy-ware, viruses, or exploits that may allow unauthorized access to the machine as well as the network hosting the program.  The laws that govern copyright are not specific to any one technology; you can violate the rights of a copyright holder using many different types of technology. Both uploading and downloading of copyrighted files can violate copyright law.

What is the University’s policy on Peer- to-Peer file sharing?

Most, if not all, of the P2P programs listed above threaten or disrupt the integrity of the University’s computing services and its network. The University respects the intellectual property of others, regardless of the medium in which the material is transmitted in as this is a cornerstone of academic integrity.  Access to the University’s technology resources is a privilege granted to students, faculty, staff, and approved guests.  Everyone using these resources is responsible for using them in an effective, ethical and lawful manner.  We prohibit illegal distribution of copyrighted material, which is a violation of the University’s IT6003 - Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources and the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities (PDF).

What is the University doing to combat Peer-to-Peer File Sharing?

The University currently employs bandwidth-shaping technology to throttle peer-to-peer traffic.  We also utilize technology that monitors transfer of copyrighted materials.

What will happen if I violate copyright laws or university policy?

If you are found violating copyright laws or University policy, the University may  impose proper sanctions. Sanctions may include, but are not limited to, limitation or revocation of  computer and network access rights and/or other sanctions up to and including suspension or expulsion for students, and termination for employees.

In addition, there may be 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. 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 especially their FAQ's at Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright.

How do I remove P2P Software from my computer?

Steps for removing P2P software vary depending on operating systems. Generally, Mac programs may be removed by dragging to trash, on Windows, users may use the uninstall program feature. Specific steps may be found on sites below:

Remove Apple Programs
Remove Windows Programs

For technical assistance, please visit umHelpdesk to submit your requests online, call 901.678.8888, or email umtech@memphis.edu. Visit the umTech page for more information.

Where do I Download Music, Movies, and Software Legally?

Everyone knows how easy it can be to locate illegal copies of music, movies and software on the Internet. The Why Music Matters web site provides links to many legal music pages where you can locate MP3s and other forms of digital music that are provided for free or at a small charge. Respect Copyrights links to several online services where you can download and watch movies ranging from major feature films to independent short subjects. These sites, which are sponsored by a number of groups in the recording and motion picture industries, are also great sources of information about illegal file sharing, the effects it has on the music industry, and the consequences it can have for individuals.

While The University cannot endorse any particular Internet music or movie service provider, we do recommend the organizations above as good starting points as well as the following sources:

Legal Sources of Online Content

Music Services

Advancing Creativity