University Publishing

Downloading or Sharing Files/Software

It has become popular practice to download movie, music, and software files from peer networks online. One of the first online services that made this possible was Napster. This violates both copyright and criminal law. According to the music and movie industries, the majority of the offenders are college students using their college Internet service. In an effort to recover lost revenue, these industries are sending universities hundreds of copyright infringement claims.

Washington State University has received some claims that students here are downloading or sharing unauthorized files. WSU is also liable for copyright infringement when students or other campus network users engage in this illegal activity. The Washington State University Copyright Office operates an education program to alert students to the dire consequences of this activity.

Campus Internet users who have been caught ask, “Why wasn’t I warned about this?”

Both the Washington State University Student Handbook and Calendar and the WSU website on Electronic Publishing and Appropriate Use Policy restrict this activity. This brochure is another educational outreach and explains the problem’s dynamics.

Is it against the law or WSU rules to download or enable others to download movies, songs, or software with my WSU computer?

YES. Unless you have the copyright holder’s permission or legally purchase the files, you are violating the law, University policy, and your access agreement. Sharing or downloading illegal files infringes the copyrights of the artists, studios, and recording companies that published the content of these files.

MP3, peer-to-peer (P2P), and related Internet search, share, or “FastTrack” technology has made it easy to copy files contained on the computers in any given network. Software like BitTorrent, BearShare, Grokster, Morpheus, Direct Connect, FlatLan, Phynd, Soribada, SoulSeek, and Kazaa are just some of the ways to accomplish this. If you search for files with movies, music, or software and save copies on your computer—without the permission of the copyright holders—you have infringed their copyrights and violated WSU policy. Even if your computer has legitimate copies of these files, you violate the law and University policy when other users access your files to download copies. Hosting a website that searches for or enables others—in any way—to copy illegal files is also a violation of law and University policy. Many file-sharing software packages are designed to distribute files on your machine to others, and this can occur even if you think you have disabled this function.

Hog of University Bandwidth

Copying and distributing illegal files uses an enormous amount of network bandwidth. Besides being illegal and against University policy, it reduces available bandwidth for others who need it for legitimate academic purposes. While the University does not look at the content of an individual’s network traffic, Information Technology does monitor bandwidth utilization and can isolate and identify any user who utilizes significant bandwidth for illegal file-sharing or other prohibited activities.

Violation of WSU Computer Use Policy

Anyone who uses the computer network at WSU must comply with the legal guidelines. These guidelines are located at www.wsu.edu/ElectronicPolicy.html. The guidelines are also published in the Student Handbook and Calendar. The guidelines say:

Inappropriate Use:

WSU computer resources, information technologies, and networks shall not be used for (among several other prohibited activities):

  • Violating copyright law (thus, information technology and network users who do not hold the copyright on a work must have permission to publish information, graphics, cartoons, photographs, or other material, or the publication must be otherwise permitted under copyright law);
  • Copying of software in violation of a license or when copying is not authorized.

Is it possible to be detected downloading or enabling others to download movies, music, or software?

YES. The movie and music industries have private detection agencies that use new technology to trace copyright-protected files directly to the source. Once they locate a computer that transfers unauthorized copies, they notify WSU that they have a copyright infringement claim and provide the IP address of the computer hosting the unauthorized files.

The notice of copyright infringement follows a procedure prescribed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. According to that procedure, WSU must respond quickly to terminate Internet access of the computer identified in the claim while an investigation is conducted.

What happens if I get caught downloading or hosting a website that enables others to download unauthorized movies or music?

Your Internet port may be turned off immediately and without notice. Then Information Technology or Student Affairs will contact you. If this is your first offense, your service may be restored in time if you satisfy the following conditions:

  • Delete all unauthorized files;
  • Attend a copyright education workshop; and
  • Sign a written statement that you will comply with the computer use policy in all future activities on the WSU computer network.

Repeat offenders may permanently lose their WSU network privileges, and under certain circumstances, the case may be turned over to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

Your Liability to Copyright Holders

You will still be liable for copyright infringement for unauthorized copying or enabling copying of movie, music, or software files. The copyright holders may file a lawsuit against you as an individual. You may even be prosecuted under the No Electronic Theft Act. If convicted, you may be sentenced to prison and fined. If the copyright holders decide to sue you and they win the lawsuit, the judgment against you may include “statutory damages,” ranging from $750 to $30,000 for every illegal copy you made. If the court finds that you copied the files “willfully,” the copyright holders may be awarded additional punitive damages.

Has any student ever been sued for sharing movie, music, or software files?

YES. On April 3, 2003, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued four students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Princeton, and Michigan Technical University. The lawsuit claimed that one of the students operated a network that offered one million files. It was estimated that the student’s potential liability under copyright laws was $150 billion. The lawsuits were reported settled for amounts ranging from $12,000 to $17,000, a far higher price than if the students had legally purchased the music. The RIAA is now suing hundreds of people for sharing music files.

For further information see:


The WSU copyright site at publishing.wsu.edu/copyright

The book Copyright Law On Campus, published by WSU Press, is part of the copyright education program. Call 800-354-7360 or email jslynn@wsu.edu.
To order the book online, go to wsupress.wsu.edu or contact Marc Lindsey, WSU copyright specialist, at 335-1214 or lindseym@wsu.edu.

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