File Sharing & Copyright

Know the Facts. Don't Get Targeted.

Student Tech Services is on your side. Our goal is to provide students with a secure and accessible network that respects individual privacy. As part of that goal, we strive to educate students about safe online habits, including avoiding the consequences of illegal file sharing.

The University takes copyright protection very seriously and is legally obligated to comply with federal laws that govern copyright, namely the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA).

You can read more information about these two laws on Berkeley's Information Security and Policy site. 

Why should you care?

Illegally downloading and/or sharing copyrighted material not only reduces potential income for artists and other copyright holders, but also has potentially serious legal and disciplinary ramifications for those who violate the law.

Universities are frequently targeted by copyright holders who are continually searching for cases of illegal online file sharing. Universities often provide fast Internet connections, which means a higher volume of traffic can be pushed through in a shorter period of time. UC Berkeley is strictly bound by the previously mentioned laws to respond to copyright infringement notices sent to us by copyright holders. 

What other (LEGAL) options do I have?

If you want to watch your favorite movie or listen to your favorite song, there are plenty of legal alternatives available to you. Many ad-supported websites offer media for free, while other services offer music, TV shows, and movies at a very reasonable price. Here are some of Student Tech Services staff's favorite services:

Service Name Media Type Free, Paid, or Subscription
Hulu TV and Movies Subscription
Netflix TV and Movies Subscription
Amazon Prime Student Music, TV, and Movies Subscription
HBO Now TV and Movies Subscription
Kanopy TV and Movies Free 
Crackle TV and Movies Free
Spotify Music Free
Pandora Music Free
Apple iTunes and Google Play TV, Movies, and Music Pay for download

What are the consequences of illegal file sharing?

If a copyright holder - such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) - detects that you are sharing files illegally, it typically pursues one or more of the following options:

  1. DMCA Take-Down Notice
    If a copyright owner discovers that you are sharing copyrighted material on the Internet, UC Berkeley receives a "take-down" notice from the agency representing the copyright holder (such as the RIAA or MPAA). The University then forwards these notices to you. If you receive a copyright notice and have questions, please contact us.
  2. Subpoena
    It is possible for you to get caught sharing copyrighted material and not receive a take-down notice. Instead, UC Berkeley receives a subpoena warning on your behalf, and sends you a formal notice of the impending subpoena as well as a copy of the warning. In the formal notice, you are advised to seek legal counsel at your own cost or contact the office of Student Legal Services on campus.
  3. Pre-Settlement Letter
    An additional possibility is that, if you are accused of sharing copyrighted material, you may never receive a subpoena or take-down notice, but rather a "pre-settlement letter." In this scenario, the copyright holder informs you that you've been caught illegally sharing copyrighted material and can either pay for the violation up front or risk getting sued for much more. Pre-settlement costs range from a minimum of $750 per file, which can quickly add up to thousands of dollars.

Students violating copyright law are also subject to sanctions under UC Berkeley's information security policies and Campus Code of Student Conduct.

What is University's policy on copyright enforcement?

As mentioned earlier, Student Tech Services takes copyright violations very seriously while at the same time striving to protect and educate students. You can review the University's full policy regarding copyright enforcement on Berkeley's Information Secuity and Policy site. If you have any questions about this policy, please don't hesitate to contact us.  

Other FAQ's

Are all filesharing programs illegal?

No - In fact, file sharing technology is not inherently illegal. Just as there are things you should and shouldn't do while driving a car, what matters is how the technology is used. File sharing programs are used world-wide for perfectly legitimate purposes, such as distributing free versions of the Linux operating system, or even as part of the update management process for games like World of Warcraft! But, just as driving a car improperly can have legal consequences, improper use of file sharing technologies can violate the law.

How do I know what is legal file sharing and what is illegal file sharing?

This is not as clear-cut as one would hope. As mentioned in the previous question, using file sharing technology is not inherently illegal, but using it to download copyrighted material is. Use your best judgement and stick to well-known and reputable services to obtain your material. Sharing copyrighted music and videos with friends over IM, burning of CDs, etc. is against the law, regardless of the technology used.

I received a notice saying that I was sharing files illegally, but I know I wasn't. What can I do?

  • There are a couple of possibilities which can account for this:
    • You may have a file sharing application on your computer which is automatically sharing files that you already have. By default, programs such as BitTorrent automatically share files while they are open. If you have any of these applications installed, you can check their preferences to disable sharing or keep the application closed.
    • If you have a wireless router, you may be sharing your connection with a roommate. Any traffic that originates from your router will be identified as belonging to you. This also means that you share your bandwidth with anybody who uses your wireless router. If you have a router, we encourage you to check with your roommates and/or friends to see if they know anything about this. Unfortunately, if this is the case, our Appropriate Use Policy states that you, as the owner of the router, would be responsible for any traffic that originates from that device.

I have a question that hasn't been addressed on the Student Tech Services website. Who can I ask?

  • Whatever the circumstances, you can always contact Student Tech Services for more information and help. We can assist with securing your computer and wireless router and help you identify safer computing habits.