Many people would never dream of walking into a store and stealing a CD or a DVD.
Why? Because it's against the law. However, many people do not have the same attitude about downloading music or movies from the Internet without paying for them. The simple fact is that stealing is stealing; regardless of whether it is done physically or virtually.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 is a federal law that is designed to protect copyright holders from online theft—that is, from the unlawful reproduction or distribution of their works. The DMCA covers music, movies, text and anything that is copyrighted. More importantly, the law involves you, because there is a good chance you might be breaking the law, even if you are not aware that you are.
If you have downloaded copyright-protected files without paying for them then, quite simply, you have broken the law. If you have burned music which you have downloaded to a CD to give to your friends, then you have broken the law. If you've downloaded a movie on your computer to watch, then (you guessed it) you've broken the law.
You could violate federal copyright law if:
- Somebody e-mails copyrighted material to you and, in turn, you forward it to one or more friends.
- You make an MP3 copy of a song from a CD that you bought (purchasers are expressly permitted to do so) but subsequently make the MP3 file(s) available on the Internet using a file-sharing network.
- You join a file-sharing network and download unauthorized copies of copyrighted material you want from the computers of other network members.
- To gain access to copyrighted material on the computers of other network members, you pay a fee to join a file-sharing network that is not authorized to distribute or make copies of the copyrighted material. You then download unauthorized material.
- You transfer copyrighted material using an instant messaging service.
- You have a computer with a CD burner that you use to burn copies of music you have downloaded onto writable CDs which you then distribute to your friends.
A simple rule of thumb to help you identify which materials are protected by copyright and which are not: If you would typically pay for it, then it is probably protected. If it's a movie from the theatre, a DVD or a tape, then it is probably protected. If it is a song from the radio or one that you would buy at a music store, then it is probably protected.
DMCA at Wilkes
If you are using Wilkes Network (WilkesNet), the University is your registered Internet Service Provider (ISP). The DMCA requires ISPs to take down or block access to copyrighted materials in a timely fashion when notified that subscribers are sharing copyrighted files across their network.
Complaints arrive directly from software, music and motion picture associations, copyright holders and law firms, all of whom have employees whose sole job is to search for copyrighted material on networks, servers and machines.
Wilkes DMCA Response Policy
As supported by the Acceptable Use Policy, the use of University resources, including the entirety of the Wilkes Network (WilkesNet), University-owned computers, University-provided online storage (such as world wide web hosting), and University Internet directories, for the purpose of illegally distributing copyrighted works is prohibited.
Upon receipt of a legally submitted notice, as defined in Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Information Technology Services (ITS) will act immediately to comply with the DMCA's safe harbor for Internet Service Providers provision. These actions shall collectively be referred to as "compliance measures" and may include any of the following:
- Disabling access to the Wilkes network (WilkesNet) from the cited computer.
- Disabling access to any Web site(s) or online storage space(s) cited.
- Removal of any directory listings, such as web links, to the allegedly infringing works.
- Any other action necessary with respect to "blocking or disabling access to the alleged infringing works" as required under the DMCA Section 512.
Upon enacting "compliance measures", ITS will identify the source of the alleged infringement and take appropriate actions to ensure that the illegal acts do not continue.
When a DMCA Complaint Is Received
When a complaint is received, ITS tracks down the location of the infringement, and disables network access for that location or device. ITS then attempts to identify the owner and inform him or her of the reason for this action. The owner is given the opportunity to refute or admit to the infringement. Violators are instructed to cease sharing all copyrighted materials and are issued a warning that the behavior is a violation of the AUP for computing (as well as federal law). For student violation student affairs are notified. For faculty and staff violations are referred to deans, department heads and/or department chairs.
Legal Repercussions for DMCA Violation
In addition to University penalties, DMCA violations may carry heavy civil and criminal penalties. For example, civil penalties include damages and legal fees. The minimum fine is $750 per downloaded file. Criminal penalties, even for first-time offenders, can be stiff: up to $250,000 in fines and five years in prison. Unless served with a subpoena as required under the DMCA, the University does not release the names of (or any personal information about) subscribers in the process of servicing a DMCA notice.
File-Sharing Programs: A Frequent Culprit in DMCA Violations
In many of the cases that ITS handles, violators claim to be unaware that they were distributing (as opposed to downloading, which can also be illegal) copyrighted works across the Wilkes network. This is due to the design of file-sharing programs such as Kazaa, BitTorrent and others.
When first installed on a desktop, these peer-to-peer programs typically open "share points" on the user's computer. These share points allow anyone else on the file-sharing network to download files from your computer. If you are using any of these programs, you can configure them so that your files are private and not accessible by other individuals on the network.
The Bottom Line
Wilkes faculty, staff and students have access to a wide variety of technology. Most of us could not do our work or complete our education without it. However, the fact that a certain type of technology exists doesn't mean that it is ethical to use it in anything other than the intended manner. File-sharing programs, DVD-copying programs and the like allow you to do many things, but using them to distribute copyrighted material that you do not own is illegal and an inappropriate use of University resources.
The DMCA is designed to protect artists from something that everyone can agree is wrong - theft. What it boils down to is this: If you make or distribute unauthorized copies of copyrighted material you are breaking a federal law and could face severe civil or criminal penalties if/when caught. If you have copyrighted material on your computer and need assistance removing it, call the Help Desk at 1-866-264-1462.