Peer-to-peer file sharing

Peer-to-peer file sharing (P2P) allows distribution and acquisition of materials from others who are willing to use P2P programs. While the use of these programs is not illegal (method of transfer), transferring copyrighted information (music, pictures, movies, games, etc.) from person to person is illegal. Examples of P2P programs are Lime Wire, Gnutella, Bit Torrent and many others.

Policy and penalties

Consistent with regulations issued on Oct. 29, 2009, under the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), Northwestern College forbids the use of P2P programs on campus computers, as well as on any computer connected to campus resources. This can include but is not limited to wireless, wired and virtual connections. Disciplinary actions can come from campus or from criminal and civil courts.

Students who use P2P programs will be required to remove the programs from their computer. Students who do not remove the program(s) will be charged $100 and disconnected from the campus network until the fine is paid and program(s) removed. Repeat infractions will incur more serious consequences as determined by the student development staff.

Summary of civil and criminal penalties for violation of federal copyright laws

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.

Prevention

Northwestern has two different solutions in place to help prevent violations and track individuals who are using P2P programs. Packetshaper is a device that restricts access to the amount of current connections an individual can have and places them into a quarantined area. Packetshaper also restricts traffic to websites that are used for P2P. Northwestern’s Barrier device (used for firewall/intrusion prevention/intrusion detection) restricts users’ traffic to P2P sites.

Legal alternatives

A list of legal downloading locations is provided by Educause. Northwestern gives priority to academic sites; however, not all sites Educause lists will work from the Northwestern College network.


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