File Sharing (Peer-to-Peer) Frequently Asked Questions

University policy explicitly prohibits individuals from using its computer systems and networks to violate copyright law. Some peer-to-peer file sharing—including uploading or downloading copyrighted music—may violate copyright law. It is important for all users of the University's systems to understand their responsibilities and the University's obligations regarding copyright.

What is peer-to-peer file sharing?

File sharing is the process of making files available for other users to download and use. Peer-to-peer, commonly known as P2P, sharing is when individuals store files on their personal computers and enable their computers as servers so that others may download the files.

Is peer-to-peer file sharing unlawful?

Peer-to-peer file sharing is not, itself, unlawful. It is what and how one shares files using peer-to-peer networks that that may or may not be lawful. There are many legitimate and lawful uses of peer-to-peer networks. There are also unscrupulous and unlawful uses of those networks. It is the responsibility of all University constituents who use peer-to-peer technology to do so lawfully.

What is appropriate file sharing and what isn't?

Unless you are the copyright holder or have express permission to share someone else's copyrighted works, you are almost certainly violating someone's copyrights if you upload copyrighted works to the Internet to share via a peer-to-peer network.

While there are some circumstances in which unauthorized downloading may be lawful, downloading songs instead of purchasing them is clearly unlawful. Unless you are the copyright holder or have express permission to download someone else's copyrighted works, you are highly likely to be violating someone's copyrights if you download copyrighted works via a peer-to-peer network.

What is the University doing to educate the campus community?

Besides addressing the issue in orientation sessions, the Office of Information Technology has begun an education process to assure that those using WMU resources to share files are aware of what they are doing. See what you need to know about peer-to-peer file sharing.

What are the sanctions for violating University policies?

Violations of these rules are subject to the investigative and disciplinary procedures of the University with the Office of Information Technology acting in an advisory role. Complaints against students' abuse are usually forwarded to and handled by the Office of Student Conduct. Complaints against faculty and staff are forwarded to and handled by the supervisors and/or the appropriate vice president and sometimes, in the case of faculty members, to the provost's office.

Where can I find information related to copyright issues?

See copyright policies.

How did the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) track me down and why am I being targeted?

The University doesn't know the specific method the RIAA uses to identify individuals on campus. Nonetheless, the RIAA is able to identify IP addresses that it alleges were unlawfully used to upload copyrighted music to the Internet. The RIAA has begun a more targeted campaign to discourage unlawful peer-to-peer file sharing by focusing its efforts on postsecondary institutions.

How and when will I be notified if I'm in violation?

The University's computer security officer will notify all owners of offending IP addresses as soon as possible.

What if I don't want to settle with RIAA? What are my options?

With the threat of any lawsuit, it is a good idea to consult an attorney. If the RIAA sues you and you don't want to settle, the alternative is to defend yourself against the lawsuit.

What if I fail to respond to a notice of violation?

If an individual fails to respond, the RIAA will file a lawsuit in Federal District Court. The RIAA will issue a subpoena to the University compelling it to disclose the name associated with a particular IP address.

Will the University defend me?

No, it is recommended that you seek independent legal representation.

Will the University also seek disciplinary action against me?

Individuals who have received previous written warnings regarding peer-to-peer file sharing may receive disciplinary action from the University.

Should I delete all software and files from my computer?

In this context, it is entirely up to each individual what programs and files they keep on their computers. However, if the RIAA has targeted your IP address, it has all the information it needs. Destroying evidence will not invalidate the case against an individual.

How do I know if I have file-sharing software on my computer?

Generally, individuals must download the software needed for file sharing. If you are not sure if you have this software, please contact the Help Desk for assistance at (269) 387-4357, option 1.

Could I be in violation for downloading music or is this just for file sharing (uploading)?

Yes, it is possible to unlawfully download music. However, the RIAA typically targets individuals who have uploaded (shared) files. Nonetheless, unlawful downloading or uploading of copyrighted music is a violation of University policies and (of course) the law. 

How can I stop people from getting into my files? How can I protect myself?

The Help Desk has developed a how to listing the most common peer-to-peer clients with instructions on how to disable file sharing on each one.

Why doesn't the University remove the technology/software from campus computers that enable illegal file sharing?

Most file sharing takes place on computers owned by individuals. The University does not have the authority to unilaterally remove these applications from personal computers. Moreover, there are many legitimate and lawful uses for these applications, for instance in research, teaching, and scholarship. A number of P2P providers exist on the Internet, some legitimate, some not. Individuals who download music or videos from these sites may be exposed to the software that enables file sharing. In order to avoid sharing, the individual must know how to "turn off" that feature. The Help Desk how to previously mentioned does a very good job of explaining how to disable such file sharing.

Where can I go for support and/or questions?

Please see Digital Millennium Copyright Act violations for more information or you may also contact the Help Desk at (269) 387-4357.

Western Michigan University gratefully acknowledges that much of this information came from University of Michigan.