Tech Tuesday: Peer-to-peer file sharing and the law

Tech Tuesday: Peer-to-peer file sharing and the law

From Information Resources and Technologies

Since Sept. 1, 2006, the University of St. Thomas has been contacted nearly 100 times by the Recording Industry Association of America and others representing copyright holders regarding the illegal offering of music, software or other kinds of programming via a peer-to-peer network application, such as Napster or Gnutella.

These 91 cases compare to less than a dozen in the entire spring semester of 2006.

In each of these cases, the notice from the RIAA informs the university that the sharing activity is both illegal and unauthorized by the copyright owner; further, the notice asks the university to disable access to the infringing recording.

Once the notice is received, staff members in IRT immediately act to disable network access by the computer that is hosting the illegal activity. This "notice and take down" process is designed to provide some protection for copyright owners, and is a process with which most universities readily comply.

Federal copyright law prohibits the unauthorized copying of intellectual property (books and recordings). Hosting illegal copies of songs, TV shows, movies or software on your computer and making these resources available to others via a sharing network constitutes the illegal copying of the material.

There are two perspectives on this issue – the music industry refers to the sharing of songs and movies as "theft," which is perhaps a harsher term for what it is – the infringement of the rights of the copyright owner. At the same time, users of peer-to-peer networks like to say that they are "sharing" not "stealing" – although, again, it is different than sharing your toys, which everyone agrees is a good thing. In the case of online sharing, you keep your "toy" while your friend gets another copy of your toy – it is being reproduced by the user rather than purchased from the creator.

While there is an ongoing debate on copyright in the United States, the fact remains that it is illegal to share copyrighted material via the network. In addition, this activity places a high demand on the bandwidth assigned to the UST network and contributes, at least in part, to slowness in computing performance systemwide.

The University of St. Thomas takes compliance with the law seriously. Even when there is a gap between technology and the statutes of the state and nation, it is responsible, right and ethical to respect the law.

For more information on copyright law and UST Policy, please refer to the Copyright at UST Web page.