What is illegal file sharing? Most of the time, you can figure this out just by using a little common sense. If you don’t own a piece of copyright-protected media and you share it without the proper permission to do so, it’s illegal to share it with others. Other times, it’s not always clear whether what you’re doing actually illegal, so some knowledge of the law helps. In addition, copyright laws vary from place to place, so it’s important to understand all of the file sharing regulations where you live.
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There are many bittorrent sites out there. Only use torrent sites that publish and adhere to copyright laws. The site you get your torrent files from should not allow the pirating of copyrighted material. So, for example, if you search sites like www.Vuze.com, the company makes it clear that it has a zero tolerance policy for infringing media.
Not all sites are like this, however. Some sites cater to users, but they operate in stealth mode or take a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” attitude. This can be very dangerous to you and other users on the site. Even if you don’t download illegal material, it can still be dangerous, because you may be portrayed as being guilty by association.
Let’s examine the legalities a bit further. Let’s say you accidentally download something that you legally purchased. You mistakenly copy it to your sharing folder without realizing it. Later, you realize that you unwittingly distributed the software. The site you were surfing around on has no controls or internal procedures to stop this from happening. Eventually, you could get caught and fined, or even arrested and jailed for copyright infringement.
While you’re on a torrent site, choose your content extremely carefully. If you need to use sketchy sites to download materials, always check for the Creative Commons License, or make sure that whatever you’re downloading is not protected by copyright laws.
Keep your P2P client shared folder clean. When sharing files on the Internet, make sure that your file does not contain any copyright-protected media. Be sure to check it regularly, and especially before you go to share or torrent files.
Whatever you do, don’t download a ripped piece of software, music, movie or any other media, just because someone else owns the original music CD. This doesn’t make you immune from being sued. Files that are distributed on P2P networks are usually split up into many different fragments in order to increase download speeds.
Even if you never download the entire CD, software program, or movie, you could be in violation of copyright laws. The second you start uploading or downloading any bits of the total file, regardless of how small the fragment, you’re breaking the law.
Don’t ever assume that any files are copyright-free. In fact, you should always assume the complete opposite. Just because there’s no copyright notice, does not mean that the file is copyright-free. You must know that a file is freeware, CCL, open source, or that the author or rights holdershas given permission for file sharing.
Finally, do not make your original CD rips available to other users on the web. This is where copyright infringement starts – with the illegal copying and uploading of content. There are legal consequences to pay, and unlike what most people think, the authorities can catch you in a snap.
Internet watchdogs, various technical monitoring services that can track your computer’s IP address, will report your IP address to the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), or various other copyright authorities. Once you are detected trading copyrighted movies and songs, you will be likely be fined as part of a law suit.
In addition, your own ISP can detect large bandwidth usage and then monitor and examine your downloads to determine illegal usage. The authorities, once alerted, can find your identity, your home address and contact information, and proceed to prosecute you for breach of copyright laws. Although some people are fortunate to only get a slap on the wrist in the form of an email warning, most will receive an ominous legal letter instead. Don’t be one of those people. Do your research, know the law, and remember your legal responsibilities.
Julie Brunet is an intellectual property lawyer. She enjoys blogging about modern legal concerns with information, ideas, and intellectual products just a few clicks away.