University of Wisconsin–Madison

Illegal file sharing: What happens if you get caught?

Since August 2014, the University has received 1155 cease and desist notices in regard to copyright violation in the form of network file sharing. Of these, 671 pertained to the first notice of a given student, 475 to the second notice, and 9 to the third notice. Many legal ways to download music, movies, and TV exist, yet it’s tempting to risk the consequences.

What exactly is file sharing? Simply put, it’s the practice of making files available for other individuals to download. The most common method of file sharing is the use of peer-to-peer (P2P) software. While file sharing is not illegal, sharing copyright protected materials violates federal law.

UW-Madison depends on copyright law and other protections to protect the fruits of teaching and research, and so prohibits copyright infringement by the UW System — Acceptable Use of Information Technology Policy.  The university also cooperates with copyright holders who believe that illegal file sharing is occurring on university networks.

When the university receives notices from copyright holders, such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), it investigates and keeps track of students who appear to be violating copyright law. Having identified the student responsible, the university responds as follows:

First Notice: UW IT Security sends a notice to the student, including language that the next alleged infringement will be brought to the attention of the Dean of Students. The student temporarily loses ResNet Internet access (if applicable) until the alleged infringement ceases.

Second Notice: UW IT Security sends a warning letter to the student. The student lose Wisc Wireless and ResNet Internet access until the student completes a copyright awareness quiz (online) and has a computer check up by an approved site, for example, the DoIT Help Desk.

Third Notice: UW IT Security prepares and sends a report to the Dean of Students. The student loses Wisc Wireless and ResNet Internet access until authorized by the Dean of Students. Aside from the loss of a vital academic resource, students could also be liable to pay a fee to the RIAA.

While file sharing is seemingly harmless, make sure you consider the trade offs and use legitimate online services instead.