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Peer-to-Peer File sharing

Know the risks you take when sharing files and software.

Bellevue College has established policies covering Copyright and the Right of Fair Use and Digital Copyright Safeguards for Students so that students, faculty, and staff members have a basic understanding of their responsibilities when using campus equipment and the network. This page outlines some basic information important campus technology users should to know in order to protect yourself from legal liability.

What is peer-to-peer file sharing?

File sharing software is frequently used to download music, motion pictures, and computer software. The most common way illegal sharing is done is through the use of file sharing software, often called “peer-to-peer” or “P2P” software. Common brand names of this type of software include KaZaA, BitTorrent and Gnutella, though there are others. While using this type of software is not illegal, per se, if it is installed on a computer extreme care must be used to ensure it is not used illegally.

In addition, file sharing software is frequently used to download music, motion pictures, and computer software. Individuals who use this software often do not realize that this type of software may turn their computer into a server, or a file upload site, even without their knowledge or intent. Files stored on a computer so configured can then be illegally shared with every other person connected to the Internet.

Know the law

It is a violation of federal law and college policy for any campus technology user to share and/or distribute copyrighted materials without the permission of the copyright holder. Violators are subject to civil and criminal prosecution, as well as college sanctions as specified in the Digital Copyright Safeguards for Students policy.

How Bellevue College monitors file sharing

College technical support personnel monitor all activity on the college network. In addition, external representatives of the motion picture, music recording, and software industries, as well as vendors that have licensing agreements with the college, actively and aggressively monitor the Internet to discover incidents of illegal file sharing.

When violations are discovered, they contact the college—who is legally the network owner and Internet Service Provider (ISP) for all computers attached to the college network—and rightfully demand that the offending device be disconnected.

Bellevue College can readily identify individuals who are using the college network, whether they are using a college-owned computer or a personally-owned computer.  NO computer use at the college is anonymous.

To protect the college and network users from further culpability under federal copyright law or college policy, the college will immediately disable network access for any user or device for which a complaint of copyright infringement has been received. This disconnection will continue until the complaint can be resolved.

Complaint Resolution

Internal resolution of the complaint may require reconfiguring and/or removal of all P2P software from the computer used before access to the network is restored, and may also result in a college disciplinary review. In such a review, the full range of Bellevue College disciplinary sanctions is available, including:

  1. Permanent loss of computer use privileges;
  2. Denial of future access to Bellevue College IT resources;
  3. Disciplinary action – any disciplinary action will be taken in accordance with appropriate procedures as established by the vice-president of Human Resources (for employees) or the vice-president of Student Services (for students);
  4. Dismissal from the college; and/or
  5. Legal action.

Internal actions taken by the college to remedy a violation does not preclude the copyright holder from seeking civil and/or criminal prosecution for copyright infringement under state, local, or federal statutes. The federal law specifies that violators can be liable for:

  • Litigation costs, attorney fees, and actual damages, or statutory damages of $750 to $30,000 for EACH work infringed. The maximum is raised to $150,000 for cases of “willful infringement.”
  • Actions taken to circumvent technological measures that are used to control access to copyrighted works or to prevent infringement of the exclusive rights of copyright owners are punishable by awards of statutory damages of $200 to $2,500 for EACH act of circumvention. This may include circumventing Bellevue College computer or network protections.
    • Example: Ripping a DVD and removing the copy protection.
  • Statutory damages of $2,500-$25,000 for removal or alteration of copyright management information.
    • Example: Ripping a DVD and not including the FBI warning in the copy.

Under certain circumstances, criminal penalties up to $250,000, and/or imprisonment for five years may be imposed.

Alternate Resources

Bellevue College encourages all employees and students to be aware of their rights and responsibilities with regard to copyrighted materials, and provides these links to a number of legal resources for enjoying music or movies online.

Reference Sites for Legal Downloads

  • WheretoWatch – A website sponsored by the MPAA. This site maintains a list of other sites where you can download and watch television and movies.
  • Educause Legal Sources of Online Content – A website sponsored by Educause, a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology.

Further Copyright and HEOA Information:

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