The University of Texas at Austin

Security Awareness

A Lawsuit Can Really Add Up: The RIAA Gets Serious About Copyrights

With so many legal options for obtaining online movies, music and other software, it’s a good idea to remember “free” peer-to-peer file sharing can actually cost you thousands of dollars. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is aggressively pursuing individuals who illegally share copyrighted materials; neither the university nor your parents can protect you from prosecution if you break the law.

The issue is straightforward enough. When you download, use or share copyrighted material without the consent of the copyright holder or without paying a license fee, you are stealing it. It is no different than shoplifting. In some cases you might also be violating federal copyright laws.

Assuming that sharing copyrighted materials will go unnoticed is a mistake. Many copyright holders now use automated methods to identify copyright infringement, even in small amounts. So the risks of P2P file sharing aren’t just ones of cyber security; they include legal consequences as well.

Learn more about finding legal music, movies and other content online.

The Perils of Peer-to-Peer File Sharing

Learn about security risks associated with P2P.
Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing is a popular way for Internet users to exchange music, movies, photos or documents. If you are sharing materials online using P2P applications you may be putting yourself at risk for computer viruses, stolen personal data or broken copyright laws.

P2P networks allow you to share files by connecting to computers running the same file-sharing software. Because the software is convenient and free, it is easy to forget there are risks involved in opening up your computer to millions of unknown users. Unless you take some precautions, when you are connected with a file sharing program you might well reap some of these consequences:

  • Lost personal data: When you use a P2P application you are giving others access to your hard drive. If you have personal information such as your Social Security number, birth date, address or checking account number stored on your computer, you are setting yourself up for identity theft or a drained bank account.
  • Spyware: Hackers and other cyber crooks hope you’ll use P2P applications so they can install spyware and adware onto your computer when you download files from the Internet. Once installed, spyware monitors your online activity and even records your key strokes, making your account numbers and passwords all to easy to decipher.
  • Viruses: Like spyware, viruses are commonly spread through P2P applications. Downloading a file can infect your computer with a virus resulting in deleted files or a crashed, inoperable computer.
  • Unwanted exposure to objectionable or illegal material: You don’t always get what you bargain for when downloading files. Instead of vacation pictures, you may actually be downloading hate propaganda or even child pornography. Sometimes, this type of download can result in serious legal action even if you weren’t aware of the content at the time you downloaded the file. Think before exposing yourself to images and content that is offensive and unlawful.
  • Wasted bandwith: Because P2P networks are so frequently used for illegal file sharing, copyright holders seed the network with junk files. Downloading these files consumes your bandwidth.
  • Diminished performance of your computer and the university network. Constant use of P2P applications and file transfers, spyware and adware can all affect the performance of your computer.

Source: United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) and the OnGuard Online Web site.


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