Copyright Law and Peer-to-Peer File Sharing
What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 made it illegal to republish copyrighted information by downloading, uploading or file-sharing media such as music, movies, or software. Digitally sharing copyrighted materials is illegal and also violates University policy regarding use of the campus network. The University does not monitor individual network activity. However, UWM is obligated by law to respond to valid complaints from copyright holders and their agents. DMCA complaints are taken seriously and may result in loss of access to the UWM network, academic discipline under University policy, or fines or legal action by the copyright holders and/or their agents.
What's the risk?
Groups like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) pay organizations to gather information from the internet to identify where files are being shared illegally. Individual lawsuits are being settled out of court for $4,000-$5,000. Lawsuits that are not settled out of court can result in higher monetary damages.
How does this happen?
Groups such as the RIAA send an official complaint to the Internet Service Provider (UWM when you are using the UWM network). UWM notifies the campus network administrator responsible for the area in which the infringement occurred. The individual is then notified about the complaint so they can stop the illegal use of copyrighted material. Wherever possible, network access for the device or individual in question is removed until it can be verified that the infringing activity has stopped or until a counterclaim is filed.
How could I get sued?
The copyright holders' lawyers can file a federal lawsuit and then subpoena the University for the information to identify the individual. With your name and user account information, the attorneys can pursue monetary damages against you in court. This is the risk you assume when you engage in illegal file sharing.
What are some common "P2P" (peer-to peer) programs used for this?
Use of programs such as Limewire, Bittorrent and Bearshare may result in illegal P2P sharing of digital materials.
How can I avoid violating copyright law and subsequent legal action?
While some files may be legally shared via common P2P programs, most true freeware programs or public domain music are available elsewhere on the Internet. If you use P2P file sharing software, it is your responsibility to ensure you are not downloading or sharing copyrighted music, movies or software.
How do I know if I've received a settlement letter from the RIAA?
If you've been contacted regarding a DMCA violation, it is possible that you've been targeted for the settlement letter as well. If you wish to obtain a copy of any such letter or contact information for the RIAA, you may request it from UWM. Incidentally, the parties to a lawsuit can agree to settle a case at any time. You do not legally forfeit your right to settle by not responding to a pre-settlement letter. While it is impossible to know if the RIAA will be amenable to settlement at a particular time in the future, typically corporations prefer to settle cases in lieu of undertaking a trial which is costly and time consuming.