Copyright and Filesharing

What you need to know about sharing music, movies and more...

It is important to remember that unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject a person to civil and criminal liabilities. This page is meant to help you understand what is legal and what is not and to highlight some of the risks of peer-to-peer filesharing.

Sharing files is not itself a crime. Uploading lawfully (your own original work, for example) is fine, as is downloading of materials you have legal permission to use.  Unfortunately, the majority of filesharing activity is not legal. Many programs exist to aid the downloading and distribution of illegal content. These programs often obfuscate the fact that users are distributing as well as downloading material protected by copyright and many people engaged in filesharing activities are unaware that they could be participating in this illegal traffic.

What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?

The DMCA, passed by Congress in 1998, makes it illegal to copy or share intellectual property (including videos, music, games, software) without permission.  Willamette University supports the regulations and guidelines contained in the DMCA.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a category of technologies used by copyright owners to control access to digital materials.  The DMCA makes it illegal to produce and distribute counter-technologies to circumvent copy-protection mechanisms.

It is illegal to share music and movies from your computer unless:

  • You own the copyright on the work, e.g., material that you create and publish yourself
  • The owner of the work gives you permission to share the material, e.g., recordings of your friend's band
  • You are streaming via iTunes music that you have purchased from the iTunes music store

For the vast majority of material (pretty much anything that is for sale in stores or online), it is illegal to download or upload copies.  Unauthorized down- or uploading of copyrighted material can result in legal action against you and is also a violation of Willamette's responsible use policy.

It is neither legal nor "safe" to break the law on campus, just within the Willamette community.

Legal Downloading versus Peer-to-Peer Sharing

There are may legal ways to download copyrighted material that you can find with a quick web search.  Here is a list to get you started:

Legal Sources for Online Music and Videos

Each of these sources has some kind of revenue stream: simple sales, monthly fees or advertising.

However, peer-to-peer (p2p) sharing of copyrighted material is illegal whether you are downloading it or serving it up.  In most cases, the software used to download files automatically makes your machine into a server, so you may be serving files without even realizing it.

Willamette University Copyright Policy

Penalties for Illegal Filesharing

There can be grave consequences for engaging in illegal sharing of copyrighted material.  Willamette is required to intervene when we are notified of infringements by copyright holders.  Lawsuits are being aggressively pursued and civil and criminal penalties can be assessed. 

Summary of penalties