Illegal file-sharing is a personal risk, new campus alert cautions

The campus will probably receive 700 complaints claiming unauthorized sharing of electronic copyrighted material this academic year, says a new letter to the campus from Virginia Hinshaw and Janet Gong. That's twice the volume of 2005-06--and highlights the personal risks of illegal file-sharing "that all members of our community must be aware of."

The caution comes in a two-page June 1st letter signed by Hinshaw, provost and executive vice chancellor, and Gong, interim vice chancellor for Student Affairs. The increase signifies a crackdown by the music and entertainment industry, not necessarily a jump in illegal file-swapping.

Online trading of copyrighted music, movies, video and games has become common this decade. But unless the copyright owner allows it, the trading violates federal law, and--if it involves UC Davis--campus policy. The Recording Industry Association of America has been pursuing violators nationwide with tactics ranging from warnings to lawsuits.

"We encourage the legal use of file-sharing programs to support the UC Davis mission of research, teaching and public service," Hinshaw and Gong write. But the unlawful kind must be shunned.

"If you use a peer-to-peer software program to transfer files, it is important that you understand the risks with illegal file-sharing, and that you take appropriate action to remove the software," the administrators write. Violators face discipline, plus possible criminal prosecution and payments to settle damage claims brought by the owners of the copyright.

The RIAA has launched a new program to detect the sharing of copyrighted audio material. When it thinks it has found a violation involving a university's machines or network, the RIAA sends "preservation notices" to the university asking it to save records relating to the allegation so that the trade group can sue the copyright violator.

As of June 1, UC Davis has received 21 such notices since March.

Don't count on using UC Davis as a shield, the campus letter cautions: When copyright holders take legal action against individuals, the university cannot protect "copyright infringers."

The letter, addressed to all students, staff, and members of the Academic Senate and Academic Federation, includes sections on "actions you should take," plus resources for more information.