Hypertext Student Newsletter: File-Sharing Keeps Getting Riskier

File-sharing Keeps Getting Riskier

By Mara Abrams, Senior, Psychology and Communication Major

What do a 12-year-old girl from a New York City housing project, a studious college student, and a set of computer illiterate parents have in common?

All were sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for intentionally or unintentionally trading copyrighted music without permission. The RIAA doesn't discriminate when busting people for trading copyrighted music, especially now that they've stepped up their campaign and filed 261 lawsuits in September alone. Last spring, several east coast college students involved in large-scale file-sharing operations were forced to pay hefty settlements to the RIAA, slapping on another $12,000 to $17,000 to their parents' bill of college expenses.

The aggressive strategy may have something to do with the music industry's inability to shut down some of the most popular file-sharing programs, like KaZaA and Morpheus, or with their steadily declining record sales. Regardless, it is vital that you be aware of the law before you break it and are forced to face the consequences.

Are You Breaking The Law Without Knowing It?
You may listen to legally-obtained music on your computer, for example, by purchasing a CD and copying it onto your hard drive. However, if you have file-sharing software and you share that copied music with others, you are illegally making files available for others to download. Many peer-to-peer (P2P) programs will prompt you to select a folder or folders to be shared over the network, or sometimes they will select a default folder for you. Either way, be aware of your settings and make sure you're not sharing files you shouldn't be sharing. You don't want to be one of the many people who received a "surprise" lawsuit from the RIAA.

Warning: Copyright Owners Are Watching You
Many people assume that what they do over peer-to-peer (P2P) networks is anonymous, but they are indeed mistaken. Copyright owners actually hire people and use robot software to scan networks for illegally shared files. Using the latest technology, these people can detect your IP address, the name of the file you downloaded or shared, and the date and time the transfer occurred. The copyright holder will then notify the users' Internet Service Provider (ISP), and in order to not be held liable for what the user downloads, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provides specific steps that the ISP must take. As the ISP to the campus community, UC Davis receives dozens of infringement claims a month. If suspected of copyright infringement, your Internet port will be disconnected until the issue is resolved with Student Housing, Student Judicial Affairs, Human Resources (if you are a campus employee) or all three.

UC Davis Cannot Protect You From Getting Sued
The RIAA recently issued 1,300 subpoenas to ISP's— including UCLA and UC Berkeley—in pursuit of the names of copyright infringers. Although UC Davis hasn't yet received a subpoena, campus analysts say it is only a matter of time before file-sharers on our campus are identified and prosecuted.

Some File-Sharing Is Legitimate
Not all file-sharing is illegal. Any non-copyright protected material is fair game; for example, it's OK to share personal artwork or text files that you created with your classmates, or download music that is specifically made available for free download from up-and-coming artists seeking name recognition. In addition, many legal "pay-to-play" music downloading services are available for a reasonable fee, such as Pressplay, Rhapsody, and Apple's iTunes Music Store.

Where To Get More Information
The Student Computing Guide Web site has a File-Sharing section that provides more information.

To assist in the copyright awareness effort, the UC also has a Web site (http://universityofcalifornia.edu/copyright/) that will soon include important information about the issue. In the meantime, please submit any questions to copyright@ucdavis.edu.