If I download music from the Internet, am I doing something illegal?
Possibly. Most creative and intellectual property is copyright-protected by the author, publisher or producer. Some creative and intellectual property is not copyright-protected and is referred to as "free and open-source"(FOSS). Downloading such materials to your computer is not a problem. However, if you have downloaded copyright-protected files to your desktop, you could be guilty of doing something illegal especially if you are sharing them. The University of South Carolina regularly receives copyright infringement takedown notices from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Business Software Alliance (BSA), and others. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) requires USC, as the Internet Service Provider (ISP), to research each of these takedown notices, to notify the alleged infringer, and to remove the infringing content. First time offenders are contacted and asked to cooperate by removing the infringing files and to limit the use of or remove the file sharing/P2P software. Second time offenders are referred to the Student Judicial Office for disciplinary action that can include loss of computer network privileges, fines, and other sanctions. In some cases, the RIAA, MPAA and other organizations representing the copyright holders have actually sued students and recovered thousands of dollars in fines.
If I download files from the Internet, am I impacting USC’s network?
All activity impacts the network, including file sharing which, in some cases, has the potential of harming the network. When programs such as Ares, KaZaa, Morpheus and Gnutella are downloaded and installed on your computer, they may automatically enable file sharing or "uploads" which means that other users can connect to, and download files from your “server” as long as it is attached to the network. You may never know that this is even happening, but your computer is now part of a file sharing/P2P network on which illegal file sharing may be occurring. In addition, file sharing network traffic can saturate the network which will slow, or even stop all network activity completely. This is what network users at USC have experienced frequently in the past, and it is why some students complain of "slow Internet traffic." In an effort to manage the network, which is a shared resource for USC students, faculty, and staff, University Technology Services has separated the student and administrative networks, and purchased equipment for managing the "flow" of file sharing/P2P traffic. Despite our best efforts, however, excessive file sharing activity of any kind can and will negatively impact performance on the student network, and the only sure method of controlling it is to limit the use of file sharing programs.
Why does enabling file sharing make my computer vulnerable to intruders?
The settings that allow your computer to be a member of the file sharing communities open a back door to your computer. With file sharing enabled, your computer’s unique addresss becomes community information, at least temporarily. During this time it becomes possible for an intruder to abuse this information, allowing him or her to “see” other elements on your desktop including personal files, social security numbers, correspondence, research and photographs. Beyond the possible compromise of your personal information, your computer and the network that it is connected to can also be used by intruders to launch attacks on outside locations. This could happen without your knowledge, but the footprint left behind would be yours.
Could I be prosecuted if I am identified as someone who has shared copyright-protected files with others?
Yes! Illegal copying and sharing of copyright-protected material are prosecutable offenses, and the RIAA, MPAA and other organizations have filed thousands of lawsuits and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. In one case, someone's grandmother was forced to pay a several thousand dollar fine because her 13 year old granddaughter used her computer to share copyright-protected files. It is important to keep in mind that these organizations work for the producers and publishers of creative intellectual property - USC does not and is not in the business of identifying alleged copyright infringers. When we are served with adequate notice by these organizations, however, we are obligated to follow the law.
Will disabling file sharing improve my computer’s performance?
Yes! When file sharing is enabled, invisible activity takes place on your computer that taps the processing power normally reserved for essential work. Disabling file sharing can eliminate much unnecessary activity on your computer and the network, which should improve performance overall.