2016-2017 Undergraduate Bulletin

File Sharing and Copyright Infringement

File Sharing - What You Should Know

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing programs have become a popular way to exchange music, movies, games and software over the Internet. Academic applications of these programs are also expanding. P2P software, if installed and enabled on your computer, allows digital media to be downloaded or uploaded between your computer and any other computer that also has these programs installed and enabled, and is also connected to the Internet.

If you use P2P programs, we want you to be aware of certain personal risks, including the potential for both criminal and civil liability if you copy and distribute materials without permission of the copyright owner.

P2P File Sharing Can Infringe Copyright

P2P file-sharing programs are not illegal. If you own the copyright in the music, movie, software or other file you want to share, if you have the permission of the copyright holder, or if the material is not covered by copyright, you can share the file. However, P2P programs are often used to distribute files without permission of the copyright holder, and this is a violation of U.S. copyright law.

Under the copyright law, you could be fined between $750 and $150,000 for each work you infringe. In addition, an infringer of a work may also be liable for the attorney’s fees incurred by the copyright owner to enforce his or her rights. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504 and 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, see the U.S. Copyright Office website, especially their FAQs.

How can I tell if I need permission?

Most music, software, movies, television shows and other media are covered by copyright. A good rule of thumb is to never download a media file without paying for it or getting permission unless it is offered as a free download on a reputable site (such as iTunes weekly free song files), it is clearly labeled as a free download by the copyright holder (such as free downloads on a band’s official site), or you know the work is in the public domain. For more information about permission, take a look at the Office of General Counsel copyright permission page.

What about fair use?

Some file sharing for academic purposes may be fair use. Downloading copyrighted files without permission to expand your personal media library is never fair use.

CUNY Policy Regarding P2P File Sharing

CUNY’s Computer Use Policy requires users of CUNY computer resources to comply with copyright law. If you use a P2P program on a CUNY computer, network or other resource to upload or download copyrighted material without permission, you may be in breach of the Policy. According to the Policy, “Users of CUNY computer resources should generally assume that material is copyrighted unless they know otherwise, and not copy, download or distribute copyrighted material without permission unless the use does not exceed fair use as defined by the federal Copyright Act of 1976.”

The Policy also requires users of CUNY computer resources to engage in safe computing practices. P2P and file-sharing programs can introduce a serious security risk to your computer and other computers connected to the same network (e.g., CUNY) since they may result in files infected with computer viruses and spyware being downloaded to your computer and the network.

Violation of the Computer Use Policy may result in suspension or termination of your right of access to CUNY computer resources, disciplinary action by appropriate CUNY authorities, referral to law enforcement authorities for criminal prosecution, or other legal action, including action to recover civil damages and penalties. Violations will normally be handled through the University disciplinary procedures applicable to the relevant user. For example, alleged violations by students will normally be investigated, and any penalties or other discipline will normally be imposed, by the Office of Student Affairs.

Additional information is available at: