The University of Alabama has joined more and more universities and is blocking Peer-to-Peer File Sharing on the campus network.

What is Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement is the act of violating the exclusive rights of a copyright owner, such as copying, sharing or performing a work without the copyright owner’s permission, or creating a work of one’s own that derives, uses the characters or unique settings, from a copyrighted work.

Example: Posting a work on a website, where you are not the exclusive creator.  Works can be any type of digitally stored media (documents, songs, recordings, etc.), the contents of a document (lyrics, poetry, stories, etc.), and any derivatives of a copyrighted work (additional epilogues, side stories, fan fiction, etc.).

More Information on Copyright

What is file sharing?

File sharing is a generic term for allowing others to electronically copy digital files from your device to their’s. These files could be any type of digital media including music or other audio recordings, movies, television shows, games or other computer software.

Sharing any file of a work that you did not create yourself as an original work, that is not in the public domain, and for which you do not have permission to share, is a crime and can have serious consequences. Sharing in this context includes everything from sharing a multitude of files over peer-to-peer networks to copying a single work for a friend.

Consequences of File Sharing

The University of Alabama does not actively police or monitor its users for copyright violations. Under the provisions of the DMCA & HEOA, however, UA is a content-neutral internet service provider (ISP) and is required to take action when a Copyright Infringement or DMCA complaint from a content owner is received.

When UA receives a complaint containing sufficient information to identify the alleged copyright offender (e.g. an IP address and date/time of incident), the following procedure applies:

1st Offense

On the first offense, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) contacts the student and does the following:

  • A Service Ticket is created to track the incident, a copy of which is sent to the Office of Student Conduct.
  • The student’s network connection is disabled.
  • The Notice Letter explains why the alleged behavior is illegal and against University policy.
  • The Notice Letter instructs the student to clean the illegal material from his/her computer system. A copy of the original complaint is forwarded to the student.
  • Once the student replies with confirmation that they have complied with the request and what steps they have taken against future file sharing, their network connection will be reinstated.

2nd Offense

  • A Service Ticket is created to track the incident, a copy of which is sent to the Office of Student Conduct.
  • The student’s network connection is disabled.
  • The Notice Letter explains why the alleged behavior is illegal and against University policy.
  • The student is required to take the system to the OIT Service Desk so they can certify that the copyrighted materials have been removed. There is a charge for this service.
  • The student is advised of the seriousness of future consequences should the offense be repeated.
  • After the OIT Service Desk has certified that the copyrighted materials and file sharing programs have been removed, the student’s network connection will be reinstated.

3rd Offense

  • A Service Ticket is created to track the incident, a copy of which is sent to the Office of Student Conduct.
  • The student’s network connection is disabled.
  • The Notice Letter explains why the alleged behavior is illegal and against University policy.
  • The Office of Student Conduct may impose sanctions, including revocation of network use privileges, in addition to those imposed by OIT.
  • The student is required to take the system, again, to the OIT Service Desk so they can certify that the copyrighted materials have been removed. There is a charge for this service.
  • The student is advised of the seriousness of future consequences should the offense be repeated.
  • After the OIT Service Desk has certified that the copyrighted materials and file sharing programs have been removed, and after the Office of Student Conduct grants approval, the student’s network connection will be reinstated.

What is peer-to-peer (P2P)?

Peer-to-peer (P2P) is a method of file sharing that allows normal users (“peers”) to connect directly to other users to share/exchange files. This can be contrasted with a server-based distribution method, where users connect to a server (such as a web server via their web browser) to download files.

P2P typically requires a “client” – a software program installed on their personal computer – to share files. Examples of clients are Kazaa, Limewire, BearShare, uTorrent, etc. and other various BitTorrent clients. These clients connect to other clients over the Internet and allow users to send files that they have marked as “shared” to other users, as well as to download copies of files that other users have shared. P2P file sharing is often used, because of its unregulated nature, to share copyrighted works that those sharing the works do not have the right to do so.

Is peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing legal or illegal?

Peer-to-peer (P2P) technology is legal to use. The installing of a P2P program on your computer, though potentially unsafe, is not a violation of the ResNet Acceptable Use Agreement nor any State or Federal law.

What is shared with this technology, however, determines if the action is legal or illegal.

In short, if you have the permission of the copyright holder (creator) to download and share the file, it is legal.

If you do not have the expressed permission of the copyright holder (creator) to download and share the file, it is illegal.

Though P2P is a convenient way to share files, sharing/exchanging/receiving files this way is not anonymousnot secret, and can be unsafe.

Peer-to-Peer is NOT anonymous & NOT secret

Though the various P2P clients tout anonymity, all traffic on the University network can be tracked back to a specific individual. Though the P2P client software may not contain your real name or even your login name, the traffic to/from your computer through the University’s network is uniquely identified.

If you think that no one will ever find out what file you received (and shared), consider how many people are part of this process. Once a Copyright complaint is received, the contents, including the file you downloaded/shared, are copied to various individuals in the course of blocking the network access, reporting the event to the Office of Student Conduct, and various OIT Service Desk and Security employees. The name of the file, movie, song, game, document, etc. in question will be known to several people.

Peer-to-Peer can be UNSAFE

You may be able to trust your friends to not want to ruin your life by stealing your identity and your bank account or destroy your hard work by infecting your computer’s hard drive and destroying your Master’s Thesis, but when you use peer-to-peer software to share files, you are trusting that the people sharing the files have not altered the files in a malicious way to harm your computer or steal your information.

  • Many peer-to-peer applications are unsafe simply to install on a computer. Often, these programs may be hacked or include spyware and other malicious programs that can compromise your computer. Just by installing, you risk damage to your computer and the files on it (your pictures, your papers, etc.), identity theft, and the possibility that your computer could be used to send spam and infect or attack other computers, on campus and wherever you take the computer.
  • The unauthorized sharing of copyrighted works, easily done with P2P programs, is a violation of the UA ResNet Acceptable Use Agreement, which you agreed to follow when you registered for network access. For more information of what happens if you violate this agreement, see Consequences of File Sharing.
  • Sharing copyrighted works without the copyright owner’s permission is also against U.S. laws and international treaties. In addition to the Consequences of File Sharing, you may be subject to legal proceedings and fines. Even if you are sharing files with someone outside the United States, U.S. Law applies to you regardless of where the content is located.

What if I really need P2P?

If you have a legitimate need to use a P2P application, you may request an exception for a single ResNet connected computer.

A ResNet P2P Exception will only be considered for:

  • A wired (not wireless) ResNet connection
    Computers/devices that cannot make a wired/Ethernet connection to the ResNet network will not be considered.
  • A single computer per person

A ResNet P2P exception only allows access for your specific computer’s IP address.

If you have a legitimate need and you are agreeable to the above restrictions, you may request an exception to the P2P blocking. 

The P2P exception is for your computer only. If you get a different computer or try using another computer, even if it’s plugged into the same network port, you will be unable to access P2P. If you get a new computer, you must submit a new P2P exception request for that computer.

P2P exceptions are for the current semester only. For example, if you get a P2P exception during the Fall semester, it will only remain in effect during that semester. If you need P2P access through ResNet in the Spring semester too, you must make a new exception request at that time.

Request a P2P Exception

What can I download or share using P2P?

A P2P exception allows you to access P2P for legitimate purposes. For example, you could use P2P to download or share material that is in the public domain or that has been placed under an open license like the Creative Commons License. Some games, like World of Warcraft, distribute updates over P2P.

How you use P2P is up to you, so long as you do not violate copyright. If you download or share copyrighted material without permission, you are engaging in copyright infringement. Even if someone else uses your computer, such as a friend or family member, you are still responsible for the actions your computer takes on the University’s network.

If you fail to comply with these terms or if the University receives a DMCA complaint against you, your P2P exception will be revoked, you will lose access to P2P file sharing, and you will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct.