File Sharing: What You Need to Know

This article was published in The California Aggie on October 26, 2005. Click here to view the Aggie version.

The temptation to illegally download music, movies, and software can be a big one, but the "free" goods pale in comparison to the consequences, which might entail academic probation, suspension from campus Internet services, and a lawsuit.


During the 2004-05 school year, Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notifications filed against UC Davis were the lowest they'd been in three years, but 2005-06 is not off to an equally low start. And at least 75% of such transgressions are committed by students, which means you need to be aware of the risks involved so you don't become part of that statistic.

How File Sharers Get Caught
File sharing is easy to detect. A whole new industry of companies paid to find illegal file sharing employ scanning technology that identifies computers providing copyrighted material.

The Security Hazards of File Sharing
Most people believe that downloading a single movie or a few songs won't put them at risk of being caught. The problem lies, however, in signing on to a peer-to-peer file sharing program. Once you've done so, everything contained on your computer is available for upload to other members whenever you're on the Internet, which is any time your computer is turned on if you're on ResNet or DSL. If another peer-to-peer member asks for a file on your computer, the software happily sends it without you knowing it.


Think about it: your social security number, stored passwords, and other private data you wouldn't want strangers accessing is available to someone looking for more than entertainment. Can you say "ID theft?"

What's more, in using a file sharing program, you could be downloading viruses or spyware. To arm your computer against such virtual villains, do the following:

  • Keep your antivirus/antispyware programs updated and run them often.

  • Install the latest security patches on your operating system.

  • Scan new software with your antivirus program before installing it.

  • Use freeware and shareware only from sources you trust.

  • Executable (.exe) files install immediately on your computer, so don't click on one unless you know what it is and who it's from.

If you are a UC Davis student without antivirus or spyware removal programs, drop by IT Express in 182 Shields Library for a free Internet Tools CD, containing Symantec AntiVirus, Ad-Aware, and Spybot, or download these programs at

Pirating, UC Davis, and You
Students whose computers are found to be trading media illegally, even if a visitor used the computer to do so, are required to meet with Student Judicial Affairs. Internet access is terminated until that process is complete, and possibly permanently, depending on the circumstances. Worse still, names are tracked and warnings go in academic files for the duration of college careers.

Staff and faculty also face sanctions if caught sharing illegal files, and yes, they too have done so.

If you are accused of illegal file sharing, either on the giving or receiving end, the university cannot protect you from being sued. A lawsuit begins when, instead of sending a DMCA notification to the Internet Service Provider (the university if you're using ResNet, a campus connection, the modem pool, or campus wireless), the copyright owner asks a court to issue a subpoena for the ISP to turn over the file sharer's name. When UC Davis receives a subpoena, it does its best to contact the individual first, but it must respond. After that it's between you and the copyright owner, and you can bet the process will be a lot more expensive than an ything you got free through the peer-to-peer service.

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