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Peer-to-Peer File Sharing and Copyright Violations

The Problem

The illegal distribution of copyrighted music, movies, television shows, text files, and software is a pervasive problem on the internet.   Particularly troublesome are peer-to-peer file sharing systems based on the "torrent" technology - these are most often implicated in copyright violations.  The problem of copyright infringment by university students has been so wide-spread that there specific provisions in federal legislation to deal with this issue.  

The Penalties

The use of file sharing programs for copyright protected material can have major consequences for you. Essentially, the law stipulates that you cannot have anything on your computer that you do not own. More importantly, you cannot share any file for which you do not have distribution rights. Currently, copyright violations can result in civil penalties of up to $150,000 per violation. Theoretically, if you send 10 people a copy of a song you ripped, you might be facing statutory damages of $1,500,000. In addition to civil liability, there is potential criminal liability in copyright cases-- with penalties depending on the number and value of products exchanged. Suits brought by copyright owners against students usually settle for much less, but still have involved settlement amounts of as much as $17,000, plus attorney fees.

Caltech Policy

Unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, whether downloading or sharing out, using the Caltech network is a violation of Caltech's Acceptable Use Policy. It is also a violation of US civil and criminal law under the federal Copyright Act.  When Caltech receives an official notice of copyright infringement under the terms of the DMCA, we are obligated as a service provider, and as a university under the terms of the Higher Education Opportunities Act, to take action.

Actions Taken

If Caltech is informed of a suspected copyright infringment, the steps taken are given in the Caltech DMCA Copyright Infringement Policy.  As a minimum the following will happen:

1. Your access to the network will be blocked by IMSS Security
2. You will be notified by IMSS Security that you are in violation
3. IMSS will notify the Graduate Studies Office
4. You need to call or email the Graduate Studies Office and set up an appointment.
5. Before meeting with the one of the Graduate Deans, you should

  • Remove the copyrighted material from your computer
  • Remove any peer-to-peer file sharing software
  • Read Caltech's Acceptable Use Policy
  • Read Caltech's DMCA Policy

Once you have completed these tasks, you must meet with one of the Deans in person to discuss the violation and your understanding of Caltech's policies. After the Deans are satisfied that you are in compliance with the policies, they will ask IMSS Security to restore your access.