A Hitchhiker's Guide
to the
Digital Millennium Copyright Act

You've probably heard stories in the news about the Minnesota woman who was successfully sued for $222,000 for sharing 24 songs1, or the 5,000 college students being sued by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act2,3 (DMCA). If you are using any of the peer-to-peer file sharing programs on your computer, such as BitTorrent, Gnutella/LimeWire, Ares, eDonkey, etc., to download or share copyrighted music, movies, software, or games, you could be the target of an expensive lawsuit too.

The Issue
People are using the Internet to download products, such as songs, movies, software, and computer games without paying for them -- in essence, stealing them. The companies who produce or distribute those products are using copyright law to enforce their rights and to sue those who steal their products for monetary damages.

Do they have a right to sue?
Yes! Copyright law, and the DMCA give any copyright holder who finds infringement of copyright on their product the right to sue the infringer for up to $150,000 for each infringed work. For example, they could sue for up to $150,000 for each song found to be copied in violation of their copyright!

Who are they?
The University of Hartford has received notices of illegal student activity from numerous industry associations, including the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), as well as several individual companies, including NBC Universal, HBO, and Warner Brothers.

What has been happening up until now
Under the provisions of the DMCA, copyright holders (such as those listed above) have been sending "take down" notices (see samples here) to the University when they, or an online detective agency operating on their behalf, find instances of copyright infringement by students using the University's network. As an Internet Service Provider to its students, the University must take steps, as described within the DMCA, to stop the infringing behavior, and impose sanctions in accordance with its Conduct Code, in order to avoid being held responsible itself for the infringement (maintaining "safe harbor status" under the act).

When the University receives a takedown notice from a copyright holder, the student's computer is disconnected from the University network and banned from reconnection for 10 academic weekdays (2 weeks) if it is a first offense, 20 academic weekdays (4 weeks) if a second offense, and on a third offense, the matter is referred to the Judicial Office, resulting in a reduction in housing status, and sanctions up through and including suspension or dismissal from the University4. Don't think you'll get caught? Just ask one of the over 356 University of Hartford students who have been caught so far.

How do they do it?
By definition, peer-to-peer file sharing systems transfer files from one computer to another. Anyone offering a file to you via one of these services can learn the Internet address and location of your computer when you download a file from their computer -- including the record companies. Also, if your computer shares the file back out to the Internet, anyone on the Internet can download files from it and again learn the address and location of your computer. If a copyright holder (or an investigator operating on their behalf) finds that you have downloaded, or are offering, their copyrighted property on the Internet, they can use the information to file a takedown notice with the Internet Service Provider (the University, in our case) as described in the DMCA. There is nothing illegal about what they are doing. They are not "hacking" into your computer. By using peer-to-peer sharing software, you are willfully allowing anyone to do it.

What they're doing now - settlement letters
The DMCA does not take away the copyright holder's right to sue an individual for copyright infringement. More recently, some copyright holders, or associations representing them, such as the RIAA, are sending "settlement letters" to college campuses, requesting that college administrators identify the person(s) responsible for a given infringement activity and "pass along" the settlement letters to those identified. (Most universities comply with the request.) The settlement letters typically identify the infringed materials (songs, for example) found, and offer the accused the ability to "settle" and pay typically $3,000 - $5,000, on line, in lieu of being sued for the full possible amount of up to $150,000 per item infringed.

What they're doing now - lawsuits
If a person is found to have downloaded, or offered many copyrighted works, the copyright holder may simply sue without offering to settle. Or, if an accused person is offered a settlement, but does not settle, the copyright holder may then sue his or her Internet Service Provider (or university) to obtain the person's name and address, so that they can file a lawsuit against the individual and seek monetary damages1.

What the University of Hartford expects of its students
The University of Hartford expects students to obey all federal, state, and local laws, including copyright law. As written in the University's Code of Student Conduct, a violation of law is a violation of the University Judicial Code4.

Why you should care about copyright
There are numerous other reasons why one should obey copyright law, aside from financial risk and punishment. Most University of Hartford students plan to use the skills they develop during their college experience to create or trade works of intellectual and/or artistic value. Most graduates, or their future employers, will count on copyright to ensure that they are able to sell their products in order to earn a living. If you are an engineer in CETA, a composer in Hartt, a painter at the Art School, a chemist or computer scientist in A&S, a marketer in Barney, a journalist in Communication, etc., you will depend on copyright to ensure that you can be paid for your work -- and that your products aren't simply taken and replicated by others. (If you plan on digging ditches for a living, then copyright infringement may not affect you as directly.) If you're downloading a copyrighted song for free, just think how your musician roommate from Hartt would feel.... YOUR future depends on people respecting copyright law.

Legal, free alternatives
There are several on line services that provide free (and/or advertising-supported) music and/or video downloads to college students -- all you need is your University of Hartford email account.

Service   Website   Notes

mp3.com   www.mp3.com   Click "Free Music"
PANDORA   www.pandora.com   Create your own "online radio station"
The University of Hartford does not endorse any particular service.

Legal pay alternatives

Service   Website   Notes

Amazon   www.amazon.com   DRM-free MP3 downloads; works everywhere; 99 or less per song
iTunes   www.itunes.com   Plays on Mac/PC; 99 or more per song (a hassle for non-iPod players)
napster   www.napster.com   Unlimited plays at $13/month (not iPod compatible)
Netflix   www.netflix.com   Movies and TV; monthly subscription includes on-line viewing (not Mac compatible)
Rhapsody   www.rhapsody.com   Unlimited plays on PC/Mac/Linux at $13-$15/month (not iPod compatible)

The University of Hartford does not endorse any particular service.


2DMCA full text:
3DMCA Summary:
4The Source: