Copyright Infringement and File Sharing: What Students Need to Know

In recent years, copyright holders, such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), have stepped up legal efforts to combat infringement, including targeting college students with increased numbers of copyright Infringement notices. As a student, you should be aware of the risks you take if you choose to participate in this activity. Four things you should know:

  1. Hundreds of Cal Poly students receive copyright Infringement notices each year.
  2. You can receive a notice for downloading or for allowing others to upload content from your computer. If you have file sharing software on your computer, you may be distributing copyrighted materials anytime your computer is on the network.
  3. If you receive a notice for inappropriate activity on the campus network, your network access will be temporarily disabled and you will be required to complete specific actions before access is reinstated.
  4. Repeat offenders will be referred to the Office of Student Rights and Resonsibilties for further disciplinary action.

Please review these frequently asked questions to learn more about peer-to-peer file sharing and copyright infringement, the potential dangers and penalties you may incur from file sharing, and what you can do to protect yourself and your computer.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) passed by Congress in 1998, makes it illegal to copy or share intellectual property -- music, videos, games, software and other materials -- without permission. Cal Poly adheres to the regulations and guidelines outlined by the DMCA for responding to copyright infringement notices.

What is copyrighted material?

Copyrighted material that is illegally distributed over the Internet can take many forms. However, most DMCA notices received by Cal Poly involve music, movies or television shows, and software, including video games, being used without permission. Other types of materials include written works, audio- and e-books, photographs and images, including Web sites or other Web-based content.

Is it really illegal to share music and movies from my computer?

Yes, it is illegal unless you own the copyright (i.e., you created the work yourself) or you have permission from the creator / owner to distribute it. Legally purchasing a song or a movie does not give you the right to share it with others.

Copyright holders routinely scan the Internet for violations, often using peer-to-peer (P2P file sharing software. When they find an infringement, they notify the Internet Service Provider (ISP) who is required by law to act on it. For violations on the campus network, Cal Poly receives the notice as the ISP and takes steps to identify and notify the user.

It is not against the law to use a P2P file-sharing program or to share non-copyright protected materials such as your own works or works in the public domain. At the same time, P2P file sharing is the illegal distribution method most often cited in DMCA notices. If you purchase a song or a movie, you have the right to keep a copy of it on your computer for your own use. But if your computer contains P2P software, you may be sharing it with people who have not paid for it. That is copyright infringement and you can be held responsible.

What risks am I taking by using peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing software?

Since most P2P applications have worldwide sharing turned on by default during installation, you run the risk of downloading viruses or other malware to your computer, and having your personal and/or confidential information inadvertently shared across the Internet, which could lead to identity theft.

If you are found to be using P2P software to illegally share copyrighted material, you face disciplinary action by the university. In addition to notifying Cal Poly, copyright owners can file civil suits to recover damages and costs. In many cases, statutory damages of up to $30,000, or up to $150,000 for willful infringement, may be awarded even if there is no proof of actual damages. Finally, in certain cases of willful infringement, the government can file criminal charges, which can result in substantial fines and imprisonment. For more information, please see the U.S. Copyright Office Web site, especially their FAQs.

Will Cal Poly protect my identity or defend me if I am sued?

Use of the campus network does not provide immunity from copyright law, nor can Cal Poly protect its students, faculty, or staff from criminal investigations or lawsuits relating to their personal actions. Cal Poly will comply with subpoenas, court orders or other valid legal requests for information.

What can I do to protect myself?

Never share your username, password or computer with another person, even if you know and trust them. Allowing someone else to access the network under your name is a violation of campus policy. If that person breaks the law or violates policy under your name, you may be held responsible since the violation will be traced back to you and not to them.

To avoid problems, make sure that you are not making any files available for download that you do not have permission from the copyright owner to share. The simplest way to comply with this is to delete those files and disable or remove any P2P applications.

In most cases, P2P software automatically makes your machine into a server, so you may be sharing files without even realizing it. Disabling or removing P2P programs will help protect all of the files on your computer, including your personal information. Some P2P programs install malware that can keep the connection active even after you "turn off" file sharing; at that point, your only option is to remove the P2P software from your computer.

Follow these links to learn how to identify, disable and remove commonly used P2P applications:

Several services allow you to legally download music, software, television shows and movies. Each legal alternative has some kind of revenue: simple sales, monthly fees, or paid advertising. Educause maintains a comprehensive list of legal downloading services.

Students and staff should seek private legal counsel if they believe their copyright has been infringed upon. Infringements of copyrights owned by Cal Poly and copyright violations on Cal Poly's network should be reported to

Related Content

Best Practices

10 Best Pactices

Our 10 Best Pactices

Contact Us

Contact Information Security at 756-7000


Did you know?

Stay Safe Online Tips