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Common Myths about Copyright Violation and File Sharing

What happens if I'm suspected of illegally downloading files while using the campus network?

Did you know students are still getting prosecuted? If not, read this Daily Bruin article that has some background info and a description of how the university handles illegal file-sharing. Violating campus network policies can result in having your campus computer and network access greatly reduce, academic probation, removal from the Residence Halls, and even suspension from the University. Not to mention legal action that copyright holders can take.

If I own a CD or a DVD, I can do what I want with it because I paid for it.

Your purchase of a CD or DVD gives you very limited rights to using it other than for listening at home or watching on your own TV. Think of music and movies like a book.... Your copy of a book can only be used at one physical place at a time. You are given the same rights of use for CD's and DVD's when you purchase them. Some songs downloaded from iTunes and other music and video downloading applications or web sites may encode their files with Digital Rights Management (DRM) software to restrict certain types of access. Make sure to read the fine print to see how to legally use your new purchases. There are now many web sites that allow members to stream music for free such as Myspace Music,, and Pandora Radio. These sites allow members to create and save streaming playlists

Only music sharing is reported so movies and software are OK to download and share.

Although there has been more press about legal suits for music, all forms of digital intellectual property (DVD's, software, etc.) are protected by copyright law and therefore, are equally illegal to distribute from your computer. The majority of DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) violations on campus have been related to movies and computer software. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has also prosecuted students much like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

It's OK to record TV shows and share them because they aren't copyrighted until they are released on DVD.

Anything you see on broadcast, pay for view, or cable television is copyrighted and therefore, illegal to copy and share. Now many networks and studios allow users to stream episodes, clips, or entire movies from their websites or on other websites like These sites also allow users to share and embed their media content in websites.

I have a lot of TV shows and films from Japan that I can share because they aren't copyrighted here.

Even though you are unaware of the existence of a copyright on something, you are not protected from lawsuits or disciplinary action if you are identified as having shared that item. The United States has many agreements with foreign countries in regard to copyright protection and there is a high probability that there is a domestic company that has the rights to a foreign title here. So... unless you are an International Copyright Law expert, don't presume there is no copyright on a foreign title.

If I didn't mean to share a file, or I didn't know my machine was sharing, it's OK.

As the old expression goes, ignorance is not an excuse for a violation of the law. You should make sure that you understand how your computer works and specifically how to turn off file sharing. If you are identified as having shared files, your lack of understanding of the technology will not protect you from sanctions or legal action.

The University monitors what I have on my computer--that's how they bust people.

The University feels very strongly that what's on your computer is your business. The University does not monitor or look at your computer files. However, when a complaint is filed by a copyright owner that you have made their property available to others through your computer and the University network, the University takes action to lessen the probability of that happening again. You have the personal responsibility to make sure that you have the legal rights to what's on your computer.

Even if I get caught, it's no big deal.

It's actually quite a big deal. If you are identified for having violated appropriate use policies for computing, you can have your computer access greatly reduced. Additionally, disciplinary actions can include academic probation, removal from the Residence Halls, and suspension from the University for a period of time. Additionally, you may be subjected to law suits brought about by copyright owners.