Theft by Downloading

The music and movie industries have undertaken an aggressive campaign to identify and sue individuals who are illegally downloading songs and movies on the Internet. Lawsuits have been filed throughout the country, but in particular, against college students who utilize their university’s Internet service provider to copy and share their favorite songs and movies. The recording industry estimates that it loses 300 million dollars per year to piracy of their protected songs. Pursuant to a new federal law, the Digital Millennium Act, subpoenas are served on major universities, demanding the release of the personal identification of students that they believe are downloading.

A recent poll of 18-29 year old Internet users indicated that 72% of those polled don’t care whether or not the material is copyrighted. However, those students who are identified soon learn that they are facing thousands of dollars in civil fines and litigation costs as well as the threat of criminal prosecution. In addition, students may be in violation of the University Procedure on Dealing with Possible Infringement of Intellectual Property Rights http://www.unc.edu/campus/policies/copyright%20policy%2000008319.pdf. In response to an industry complaint seeking to identify a student engaged in illegal activity, the University will contact a student to come in and discuss any alleged misuse. If it is the first time the student has been contacted and the student ceases all activity in violation of the policy, the Honor Court does not get involved. However, if a student has repeated violations and, the Student Attorney General has “a reasonable basis to conclude” that a violation of University computing policy has taken place, then a student may be charged with a Code of Conduct violation.

It is important that students seek legal advice if contacted by either the University or anyone else regarding file sharing activities. CSLS, Inc. can provide confidential legal advice to students having questions about the use and/or abuse of intellectual property.

Verified June 2011