Q: Is it legal to download or store copyrighted materials on my computer?
A: Generally, you are infringing copyright if you download or store copyrighted materials on your computer without the permission of the copyright owner, unless fair use or another exemption under copyright law applies. Most downloading over the Internet of commercially available copyrighted works, such as music or movies, through file sharing systems is illegal. In a widely followed case, a federal Court of Appeals held that users of Napster were infringing copyright when they shared MP3 files of copyrighted music.
However, if you have purchased licensed software, such as Microsoft Office, and remain in compliance with the terms of the license, it is perfectly legal to keep a copy on your computer. Likewise, if you download music or other copyrighted material in accordance with the terms of a license, or if the copyright owner otherwise grants you permission to download or keep a copy of the owner's work, you are free to do so.
The law also exempts some uses of copyrighted material from infringement, including so-called "fair use." Fair use is an important part of copyright law, but it is limited in scope and its application is sometimes uncertain. The court in the Napster case held that file sharing using the Napster system was not fair use. The same logic applies to similar peer-to-peer file sharing systems. If you are interested, you can find a copy of the Court of Appeals decision in the Napster case at http://laws.findlaw.com/9th/0016401.html.
Are there any legal alternatives that are approved for sharing digital music and movies?
Yes. The Higher Education Opportunity Act requires all colleges and universities to offer legal alternatives to unauthorized downloading. Harvard is pleased to endorse the set of alternatives that are provided by Educause, the higher education technology resource. More information about these alternatives and other related content may be found at http://www.educause.edu/legalcontent.
Q: If my computer is found to have copyrighted materials, what steps can the copyright holder take against me?
A: Copyright owners can file civil suits to recover damages and costs. In many cases, statutory damages of up to $30,000, or up to $150,000 for willful infringement, may be awarded even if there is no proof of actual damages. In addition, in certain cases of willful infringement, the government can file criminal charges, which can result in substantial fines and imprisonment. Use of an academic network does not confer immunity from copyright law, nor can Harvard protect its students, faculty, or staff from criminal investigations or lawsuits relating to their personal actions.
Q: If my computer is found to have copyrighted material, what steps can Harvard take as a result?
A :In appropriate circumstances, Harvard will terminate the network access of users who are found to have repeatedly infringed the copyrights of others. Schools or departments may pursue disciplinary action as well. Harvard's copyright policy is available here.
When a computer on the FAS Network is implicated in copyright infringement, for example, the individual responsible for that computer is notified about the notice by the Harvard University IT Security department and asked to cease and desist immediately from downloading, copying or distributing copyrighted material in violation of the law. Repeat infringements may result in termination of network access and be brought to the attention of the appropriate dean.
Q: How can a copyright holder find out if I have copyrighted materials on my computer?
A: Copyright holders search the Internet to determine whether copyrighted material is being illegally distributed. They often search with the same peer-to-peer software (BitTorrent, Ares) used by those who share files. In a sense, they act like any individual looking for a particular file, say a movie. When they find a file, however, they issue a copyright infringement notice to the network provider from which the file was transmitted.
Q: I have legally obtained copyrighted materials on my computer, but I'm concerned that my computer may be sharing these files with others on the network without my knowledge. What can I do?
A: A number of peer-to-peer file-sharing applications are configured
to enable sharing of files on your system by default. These programs typically
scan your computer for selected content, such as video and audio files, and
then share these files with others on the Internet. This can violate your privacy
and potentially break the law regarding unauthorized distribution of copyrighted
works. Many peer-to-peer software packages allow you to disable file sharing,
although few explicitly show you how. For assistance with the process of disabling
filesharing applications, contact your local desktop or network support group.
Q: I have been notified that my computer is sharing copyrighted materials,
but I am not aware that I had them on my system or that I was sharing them with
others. How can this be?
A: The most likely explanation is that your computer has been compromised ("hacked") by a third party. Hackers frequently target personal computers on high-speed university networks like Harvard's, looking for vulnerabilities in popular software packages and operating systems. Owners of compromised computers will often notice little or no change in the performance and operation of their systems.
In recent years, hackers have tended to install file-server software that can be used to illegally distribute copyrighted material such as music, movies, and pornography to others. By targeting randomly selected computers on the Internet, hackers attempt to hide their identities and avoid legal consequences for their actions.
There are many steps that all personal computer owners should take to secure their systems and minimize the chance of compromise. Harvard University Information Technology has posted a checklist of the most important steps at:
Harvard expects users to take reasonable precautions to secure their personal computers, and individuals may be held responsible for misconduct that occurs from others' use or misuse of their systems.
If you receive a copyright violation notice and suspect that your computer has been compromised, please contact your local help desk or network administrator for assistance.