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Peer-to-Peer (P2P) File Sharing at UC San Diego

This article is composed of the following sections:

What is file sharing?

The term "file sharing" is described as the act of distributing or making available digitally stored material (e.g., music, movies, software) to other users on the Internet.

Do I have a P2P file sharing program?


These are some common P2P file-sharing programs that use the BitTorrent protocol:

  • Vuze
  • uTorrent
  • Transmission

Other P2P file-sharing programs are:

  • Frostwire
  • BearShare
  • Aquasition
  • Bitcomet

Can't I turn off sharing or protect my online identity?

More than half of people at UC San Diego who received a copyright violation were not aware their P2P file sharing program was running or distributing copyrighted files. Although some try to disable the sharing feature, most still receive a copyright violation notice. With BitTorrent clients, there is no way to disable the file sharing feature. In fact, once you start downloading using a BitTorrent client, you are already at risk for receiving a copyright violation. Attempting to turn file sharing off does not guarantee you will not receive a copyright violation.

With the number of copyright notices increasing, attempts have been made to "mask," or hide your identity online to avoid receiving a violation. While technology such as IP blocking (Peerblock) and onion routing (Tor) have become available and can protect your identity, they are often difficult to correctly configure and do not guarantee protection from being identified by a copyright agency and receiving a copyright violation. 

What does the law say about file sharing?

Law governing copyright in the United States is based on the Copyright Act of 1976. It defines what copyright protects and what it means. Any "original work of authorship" is protected under copyright law, giving the copyright holder exclusive rights to how the original work is distributed and reproduced. The United States also immediately grants copyright upon creation of the work, a unique trait not found in other countries.

In 1998, the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) was added to address the digital distribution of copyrighted material through the Internet. This new addition to copyright law addressed the role and responsibility of ISPs (Internet Service Providers, e.g., UC San Diego) and how ISPs are protected from being liable for a user's actions. Media associations such as the MPAA and the RIAA and business software organizations like the BSA (Business Software Alliance) regularly contract third party companies to protect their intellectual property. These companies go through P2P file sharing networks and identify people illegally distributing copyrighted material, specifically targeting colleges and universities.

As an ISP, UC San Diego is required by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to respond when presented with copyright violation notices from legitimate sources through the following university policies:

  1. Block users who are sharing copyrighted materials
  2. Permanently block repeat offenders
  3. Have no actual knowledge of the infringement activity

For these reasons, UC San Diego does not monitor the network for P2P file sharing content.

Copyright law allows for the "fair use" of copyrighted materials for purposes of teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a complex subject. Below are some resources for more information:

To comply with the P2P provisions of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, UC San Diego has a written plan for effectively combatting the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material by users of the institutions network. That plan can be found here: University of California, San Diego Plan for Combating Illegal File Sharing

What does it mean to get a copyright violation?

A wide variety of music, movies, TV shows, games and other software is available for download through popular peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks and protocols. However, most of the shared material is copyrighted. People using P2P file sharing networks often think they can get their favorite songs, movies, software, etc. free, but end up paying thousands of dollars later in legal fees and penalties after getting sued by copyright holders.

Do you have thousands of dollars to spend and many extra hours in the day when you get sued for copyright violation? One of the biggest risks you take when you use file sharing software is getting caught and sued by the copyright owner. Over 100 UC San Diego students have been sued for copyright violations, some for the first time they shared a copyrighted file. UC San Diego received over 800 copyright violation notices last school year. Students can get advice from Student Legal Services, but are responsible for all of the legal costs and penalties. What you think is free may end up costing you thousands of dollars.

What are the UC policies concerning file sharing?

Downloading or distributing copyrighted material without authorization of the copyright holder is a violation of:

For more information on copyright at the UC, visit one of the following links:

What are the consequences of receiving a copyright violation?

Civil and Criminal Liabilities 
Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under section 106 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code). These rights include the right to reproduce or distribute a copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority constitutes an infringement.

Penalties for copyright infringement include civil and criminal penalties. In general, anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or "statutory" damages affixed at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed. For "willful" infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed. A court can, in its discretion, also assess costs and attorneys' fees. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504, 505.

Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense.

For more information, please see the U.S. Copyright Office website at www.copyright.gov, especially their FAQ's at www.copyright.gov/help/faq

In addition to the possibility of civil and criminal repercussions, there are consequences from the university.

University Consequences for Non-Student Violations
DMCA violations received for non-students are forwarded to their department. Consequences for non-students will depend on the policies of their respective department and classification. 

University Consequences for Summer Conference Guests
DMCA violations received for Summer Conference Guests will have their network connection permanently blocked. 

University Consequences for Student Violations

If UC San Diego receives a copyright violation notice for a computer registered to a student, we will respond in the following way:

First Violation: 
The first notice of illegal distribution of copyrighted material is a warning, but the student's connection is blocked temporarily in case the computer has been compromised and to prevent the student from getting additional copyright violations. The following measures must be taken by the student:

  • Bring in the computer responsible for the violation for a security scan, with the option of getting unblocked. We will look at the computer to ensure that the student:
    • Is aware of any P2P file sharing programs installed on the student's computer, and receives assistance in removing them if they choose to
    • Receives assistance in cleaning the computer of any malware
    • Has a computer that meets UC San Diego's Minimum Network Connection Standards (PDF, see Exhibit C)
  • Sign an agreement to stop illegal file sharing
  • Attend a copyright presentation within 30 days after the securety scan

Failure to comply with any of the requirements will result in the network connection getting blocked again.

Second Violation:
A second notice of illegal distribution of copyrighted material will prompt ACMS to refer the student's case to the Office of Student Conduct. The Student Conduct Officer (i.e. Dean, Assistant Dean, Director of Student Conduct) hearing the student's case will determine when network access is re-enabled. The student may be subject to sanctions (i.e. disciplinary probation) based off the student's responsibility in the case and from previous incidents. The following are examples of what students have experienced:

  • Community service
  • Writing an essay that the student will submit to the student's respective college Dean
  • Enrollment in a three hour ethics class

The case will also become part of the student's disciplinary record at UC San Diego. The student must have a security scan done on the identified computer and attend another presentation, similar to those receiving a first violation. The student will also be required to meet with the ACMS Help Desk Manager.

Failure to comply with any of the requirements will result in the network connection getting blocked again. Note that for a second violation, the student will not have the option to be unblocked prior to completion of the entire procedure. 

Third Violation:

The student's network privileges are permanently revoked unless significant mitigating circumstances are present. The student is also re-referred to the Office of Student Conduct again for further action under the Student Conduct Code and may be subject to additional and more serious sanctions (i.e. disciplinary probation for tenure and/or suspension from the University) based off the student's responsibility in the case and any previous incidents. The case will also be part of the student's UC San Diego disciplinary record.

You can find a copy of the Student Conduct Code at studentconduct.ucsd.edu and for further questions, please contact the Office of Student Conduct at (858) 534-6225.

Are there legal alternatives?

Why pay thousands of dollars dealing with a copyright lawsuit when there are many legitimate ways to access copyrighted material?

UC San Diegeo looks continuously for services that provide legal and affordable alternatives for viewing, listening to, and purchasing copyrighted material. An extensive list of legal alternatives can be found at Educause's website.

Our current recommendations for music:

  • Amazon has very competitive prices for music, and even has anime.
  • Finetune streams tracks from your favorite artists, and lets you create and share playlists.
  • iTunes Store has free songs and TV shows to download every Tuesday.
  • Grooveshark is a music-streaming website that allows you create your own playlists.
  • Pandora Radio is the personalized internet radio service that helps you find new music based on your old and current favorites.

Our current recommendations for TV shows and movies:

  • Amazon and Netflix provides a Video on Demand service.
  • Crackle  and Jaman provide streaming TV shows and movies online for free as well.
  • iTunes Store has a movie rental and purchasing store, a service similar to Amazon.
  • Hulu has free TV shows and movies as well, with limited commercials.
  • TV network stations such as ABCNBC and Fox usualy host the latest episodes of most broadcasted shows.

A few free, legal alternatives to commonly used programs

Program Mac Alternative PC Alternative
Microsoft Word LibreOffice LibreOffice
Adobe Photoshop GIMP GIMP
Final Cut Pro Avidemux Avidemux
Adobe Dreamweaver Aptana Studio Aptana Studio
Autocad BRL-CAT or FreeCAD BRL-CAT or FreeCAD
Norton/McAfee Sophos Anti Virus Microsoft Security Essentials
Matlab Scilab Scilab

Other legal alternatives include:

  • Use ACMS Virtual Computing labs for access to popular applications like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, ArcGIS, and Stata.
  • Getting material from the public domain, using sites such as Internet Archive. Government documents, text, and images over 75 years old are in the public domain and are free to use.
  • Using "royalty-free" collections of work, such as CD collections of photographs or clip art.
  • Getting permission or a license for use from the owner of the work before using copyrighted material.
  • Use work you have created yourself!

Copyright Education Initiatives

We're continuing to work on new media to educate UC San Diego about file sharing, but do check out campaign posters from previous years! Click on the images below for a bigger view.

Lie 1: Time doesn't matter Lie 2: Good intentions don't matter Lie 3: First timers get sued Lie 4: Ignorance is no excuse for the law Lie 5: You are not anonymous Lie 6: Even once is illegalLie 7: Downloading from overseas is still illegal

Newspaper Ad

This is the advertisement that ran in the Guardian. Click on the image for a bigger view.

Consider the potential legal expenses of getting sued

Copyright Violation videos from UCLA

UCLA* has also developed media that explains the consequences and myths of file sharing.

*Created by University of California, Los Angeles

Telephone: (858) 534-2267
E-mail: resnet@ucsd.edu
Location: Applied Physics and Mathematics 1313

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