University of Wisconsin–Madison
Download symbol and black cloud

About downloading legally on campus networks

Free movies and music are great perks that we easily take for granted as online consumers. However, we put ourselves at risk when we—knowingly or not—download or use this material illegally or commit other copyright violations on campus networks.

What are copyright violations on campus?

Essentially, a person violates copyright laws when the rights of intellectual property (IP) owners are infringed upon when there’s no permission granted by an owner—regardless of how IP material or property is obtained or shared. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, intellectual property “refers to the creations of mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.”

The university cooperates with copyright holders to remain compliant with federal laws and regulations. (The university’s Chief Information Security Officer, Bob Turner, is the named agent for UW–Madison, and he is accountable to the U.S. Department of Commerce.) At the university, downloading, streaming and file sharing are the most common means to committing some form of IP copyright infringement.

File sharing, streaming and downloading

The practice of making files available to other individuals for downloading—file sharing—is legal. The most common method of file sharing is the use of peer-to-peer (P2P) software or networks. Streaming too, is another form of downloading. While file sharing and streaming are not illegal, to reiterate, sharing copyright protected materials without permission violates federal law.

Our current snapshot

Illegal downloading by students at UW–Madison has increased for the first time in four years.

Data from the Office of Cybersecurity shows that, to date, 420 notices of copyright violations have been issued to students during current calendar year 2018. This is an increase of 50 percent from this time last year (October 2017), when downloading violations were 280. For all of 2017, 386 notice violations were issued.

According to Jeffrey Savoy, assistant director of the Office of Cybersecurity, this increase in violations may be due to the type of content and notification procedures associated with these violations. Said Savoy, “The sharing of an album of songs might result in 10 separate notifications (one per song), vs. just one notification for the album.”

Since 2014, the Office of Cybersecurity has been tracking complaints received from copyright holders alleging copyright infringement by students.


Copyright Violations

Copyright violation consequences and how to avoid them

If notifications to stop copyright violations aren’t heeded, it can result in penalties from external entities (e.g., copyright holders, etc.) that can potentially reach several thousand dollars. To avoid these penalties, it’s important to understand the process UW–Madison has developed for alleged infringement on campus networks. If the alleged copyright infringement occurs on a campus network, the university has developed the procedure below.

When a violation or infringement happens:

First Notice: The UW Office of Cybersecurity sends a notice to an infringer.

Second Notice: The UW Office of Cybersecurity sends a warning letter. This results in a loss of network access. Completing an online copyright awareness quiz and a computer check up, to scan for malware or file sharing applications are required to get access back.

Third Notice: A loss of UW–Madison network internet access. A report is sent to the Dean of Students, who can decide whether to grant access back.

UW–Madison prohibits copyright infringement in accordance with the UW System — Acceptable Use of Information Technology Policy.

If you have questions about illegal file sharing, including whether you might be doing it and not know it, contact the DoIT Help Desk. Students, if you don’t mind spending more than $5 monthly to have peace of mind and avoid receiving an infringement notice, you can always see our guide of cheap but reliable sources to use online entertainment content. Finally, you can find the best sources to legally use your favorite movies, music and other online content from any of the following:

The best free music download sites that are totally legal

Where to stream movies free

Legal sources of online content