The Risky Truth About File Sharing and Intellectual Property

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In 2013, Joel Tenenbaum was charged with illegally downloading and sharing copyrighted files.  He was accused by Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Bros. Records, and UMG Recordings for violating U.S. copyright law.  The assessed damages were $675,000, but the judge reduced it down to $67,500.  The reduction was appealed, the $675,000 was reinstated, and Tenenbaum ultimately filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

File sharing is not illegal. In fact, it is legal in every state. The problem lies in when you are copying, downloading, uploading, reproducing, selling, or sharing/distributing copyrighted information without permission.  Even downloading or stream-ripping a small portion of copyrighted work is illegal if it is done without permission. Strangely, despite so much copyrighted information being reproduced and shared around the world, there are very few cases.  Thing is, when a case does happen, the repercussions are downright miserable.

Not sure if something is copyrighted?

All you have to do is just ask yourself if it can be purchased. If so, then chances are that it is.

Here are some examples of violations:

  1. Stream-ripping from sites like YouTube
  2. Downloading or sharing a copyrighted movie
  3. Sharing copyrighted songs (music) to others that haven’t purchased them
  4. Downloading songs from other people when you haven’t purchased them
  5. Sharing or downloading computer software (programs, games, etc)
  6. Downloading or sharing copyrighted TV show or program

Punishment for copyright infringement

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes distributing copyrighted material punishable by law.  There could be additional local laws to deal with if you are caught as well.

If found guilty, a person could face:

  • Up to 5 years in jail
  • Fines up to $150,000 per file.

PLUS, the copyright holder can also file suit against you, and this will add up in legal fees and damages to pay.  

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has expressed that the term “piracy” is not a strong enough term because it doesn’t capture the devastating impact upon musicians and other industry players. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and RIAA both constantly monitor downloads for copyright violations. Scholarware works to report software pirates and prosecute them, as well. If you or someone you care about attends a university, be aware that their Information Technology (IT) must make a copy of logs to trace the violations back to a specific internet port, which is associated with a person. This information will then go to a governing body for disciplinary actions.

What about P2P programs?

Peer-to-peer (P2P) programs are those that many of us have heard of like BitTorrent, KaZaA, Napster, etc..

The programs are not illegal, but the data being shared IS illegal. If someone chooses to use BitTorrent, they must be extremely wary of downloading copyrighted content because their IP addresses are public.  This makes the torrent users easy to track. This is also why lately there is rise in VPNs and other anonymization technologies. Regardless, there are still other issues. P2P programs open up your computer to many high risk viruses. This can cause your computer to lose data, be overrun by pop ups, begin to receive a slow internet connection, and you could also encounter identity theft.  Anti-virus software can help fight this, but it cannot always protect from some of these viruses.

Many people have found that streaming material is the best way to deal with this, since there are not regular means to trace this. However, even this method is not perfect.  Sure, up until now there has not been a single case that has been filed against a user of streamed content. With that said, there is nothing that can refute the very real possibility of  a case suddenly showing up to prosecute BitTorrent users for accessing something ages ago.