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File Sharing and The Law

What the Law Says About File Sharing

Law governing copyright in the United States is based on the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8) and the Copyright Act of 1976 (U.S. Code: Title 17). It defines what copyright protects and what it means. Any "original work of authorship" is protected under copyright law, giving the copyright holder exclusive rights to how the original work is distributed and reproduced. As a party to the Berne Convention, The United States also immediately grants copyright upon creation of the work, and allows for the copyright to be registered in other Berne Convention countries.

In 1998, the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) was added to address the digital distribution of copyrighted material through the Internet. This new addition to copyright law addressed the role and responsibility of ISPs (Internet Service Providers, e.g., UC San Diego) and how ISPs are protected from being liable for a user's actions. Media associations such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and business software organizations like the BSA (Business Software Alliance) regularly contract third party companies to protect their intellectual property. These companies go through P2P file sharing networks and identify people illegally distributing copyrighted material, specifically targeting colleges and universities.

As an ISP, UC San Diego is required by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to respond when presented with copyright violation notices from legitimate sources through the following University policies:

  1. Block users who are sharing copyrighted materials
  2. Permanently block repeat offenders
  3. Have no actual knowledge of the infringement activity

For these reasons, UC San Diego does not monitor the network for P2P file sharing content.

Copyright law allows for the "fair use" of copyrighted materials for purposes of teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a complex subject. Below are some resources for more information:

To comply with the P2P provisions of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, UC San Diego has a written plan for effectively combatting the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material by users of the institutions network. That plan can be found here: UC San Diego Plan for Combating Illegal File Sharing.

You can read more about these laws at:

What it Means to Get a Copyright Violation

A wide variety of music, movies, TV shows, games and other software is available for download through popular peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks and protocols. However, most of the shared material is copyrighted. People using P2P file sharing networks often think they can get their favorite songs, movies, software, etc. free, but end up paying thousands of dollars later in legal fees and penalties after getting sued by copyright holders.

Over 100 UC San Diego students have been sued for copyright violations, some for the first time they shared a copyrighted file. UC San Diego received nearly 700 copyright violation notices last school year. Students can get advice from Student Legal Services, but are responsible for all of the legal costs and penalties. What you think is free may end up costing you thousands of dollars.