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What are the dangers of file sharing and copyright infringement?

What is Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement is the act of violating the exclusive rights of a copyright owner. Examples include copying or performing a work without the copyright owners permission, or creating a work of one's own that derives from a copyrighted work.

What is file sharing?

File sharing is a general term for sharing digital files electronically. These files could be music or other audio recordings, movies, television shows, games or other computer software, or any other type of digital file.

Sharing any file of a work that you did not create yourself as an original work, that is not in the public domain, and for which you do not have permission to share, is a crime and can have serious consequences.  Sharing in this context includes everything from sharing a multitude of files over peer-to-peer networks to copying a single work for a friend.

What is peer-to-peer?

Peer-to-peer (P2P ) is a method of file sharing that allows normal users ("peers") to connect directly to other users to share files. This can be contrasted with a server-based distribution method, where users connect to a server (such as a web server via their web browser ) to download files.

P2P typically requires a "client" - a software program installed on their personal computer - to share files. Examples of clients are Kazaa, Limewire, BearShare, etc. and the various BitTorrent clients. These clients connect to other clients over the Internet and allow users to send files that they have marked as "shared" to other users, as well as to download copies of files that other users have shared.

Because of its decentralized and unregulated nature, peer-to-peer filesharing is often used to share copyrighted works that those sharing the works do not have the right to share. However, it is important to remember that peer-to-peer is not anonymous, not secret, and can be unsafe.

Dangers of P2P

Using peer-to-peer software is a risky venture. Installing peer-to-peer software can expose your computer to attack, and using P2P software to share copyrighted works violates copyright laws, all of which have serious consequences.

  • Personal Dangers
    Many peer-to-peer software applications are dangerous to simply install on your computer. They often come bundled with spyware and other programs that can compromise your computer. By installing these programs, you risk damaging your computer and the files on it (your pictures, your papers, etc.), identity theft, and the possibility that your computer could be used to send spam and attack other computers.
  • Disciplinary Dangers
    Sharing copyrighted works, as is easily done with P2P programs, is in violation of the Southwestern's Acceptable Use Policy. Violators are subject to disciplinary action.
    Sharing copyrighted works without the copyright owner's permission is also against US laws and international treaties. Violators can be subject to lawsuits and in some cases, criminal prosecution. 
The content of this article has been reprinted (and edited) with permission from The University of Tennessee - Office of Information Technology - June 2008
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