University Policy

Sharing or downloading copyrighted files without permission over the UR network is illegal and a violation of the University’s Acceptable Use Policy and Copyright Policy. When you connect to the University using VPN, for example, from home or a coffee shop or a conference site, your computer is subject to the same rules and regulations as a computer located at work.


Why Is It Illegal?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed by Congress in October 1998 to provide legal protection of copyrighted material. Copyright holders have the sole right to copy, modify, and distribute their intellectual property. Therefore, copyright helps to prevent the unauthorized use or sale of these works.

For example, your research paper is considered intellectual property, the same as a recording artist’s song or a painter’s mural. So if you wouldn’t appreciate someone distributing your work to the entire online community without your permission, then perhaps you should think twice before downloading or distributing an artist’s work without their permission.


How Can I Tell If the Site I’m Downloading From Is Legal?

Many artists, record companies, and movie studios list on their websites whether they allow the distribution of their materials on the Internet. Check their websites first before downloading their material from legally questionable third party sites or making their material available to others.

Warning Signs a Site Is Illegal

  • P2P Networks – If the site uses a peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing network, which requires torrents to download files, it is almost definitely an illegal website.
  • Titles That Are “Too New to be True” – Copyrights can last for anywhere between 50 and 120 years. But once the copyright has expired, the works that were copyrighted fall into public domain. Works in public domain can be distributed, downloaded, and copied by anyone legally. So chances are that if the work was made recently, it’s probably under copyright.
  • Poor Sound or Video Quality– In many cases, the quality of illegal copies is inferior with poor sound and can appear blurry or shaky. Trust your eyes and ears.
  • Offers That Are Too Good to be True– Be wary of “too good to be true” offers, such as those for “free” content when searching for and purchasing downloads from unfamiliar sites; they typically indicate pirated product.  Look-out for terms like “Unlimited Movie Downloads,” “100% legal,” and “Millions of Files Shared.” Offers for one-time or yearly fees with no details and no contact information should also alert you that you have entered an illegal site.
  • No Location Provided –  If the site avoids disclosing its location (for example, if there is no address in its contact information), this can also be a sign of an illegal website.

Where Can I View or Download Media Legally?

Legal Sites for Viewing / Downloading Music, Movies, and TV Shows

  1. ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC all allow viewers to watch their television shows on their websites for free. New episodes are usually available online the morning after they first air on television. The University also provides on campus students with cable television including over 120 channels, visit the page on how to set up your TV on campus.
  2. The University provides online access for undergraduate students to HBO Go and Max Go, so you can watch your favorite movies and shows for free. Simply go to the site, and select University of Rochester as your provider and enter your NetID and password when prompted.
  3. Netflix (paid), Amazon Prime Video (paid), and Hulu (free or paid subscription) allow you to stream movies and television shows directly to your computer without downloading.
  4. Archive.org and Entertainment Magazine Online offer free movie downloads for movies that have passed out of copyright and into the public domain.
  5. Sites/Apps like Spotify and Pandora allow you to create your own radio stations or playlists on the Internet that only play the songs or genres that you like. Most offer free and paid subscription options. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) website also provides options for searching for music online.

Consequences of Illegal File Sharing

If the University receives a complaint against you from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), or other copyright-holding associations, you will be notified by email. For each complaint filed against you, you will face escalating consequences.

Student Consequences
  • 1st Complaint – You will receive a warning from University IT and an informal letter of warning from the Dean of Students Office.
  • 2nd Complaint – Your NetID account will be suspended, there will be official disciplinary action from the Dean of Students Office (most likely disciplinary probation and community service), and you will incur a $180 NetID reconnection fee.
  • Refer to the Dean of Students’ Standards of Student Conduct for more information
Staff Consequences
  • 1st Complaint – You will receive a warning from University IT and your supervisor will be copied on the notice.
  • 2nd Complaint – You will receive a warning from University IT and your supervisor as well as Human Resources will be copied on the notice.
  • Refer to the HR Policy for more information.
Faculty Consequences
  • 1st Complaint – You will receive a warning from University IT and your department chair will be copied on the notice.
  • 2nd Complaint – You will receive a warning from University IT and your department chair and dean will be copied on the notice.

Other Dangers of Illegal File Sharing

Personal Loss
If you don’t think you’ll get caught by the RIAA or the University, then perhaps you should consider what else could be happening while you’re downloading media illegally from peer-to-peer networks. While you’re getting the hottest new music and movies, some hacker could be downloading your confidential and personal information.

“How?” you may ask. Peer-to-peer (P2P) programs function by allowing users to connect to each others’ hard drives in order to access and copy files. Any files stored in shared folders are fair game for others to copy and steal. Some P2P programs don’t even create shared folders; they simply utilize existing folders such as “My Documents” and its subfolders. That means that anything stored in your “My Documents” folder is up for grabs, including any Word documents, financial software files, photos, and other personal data. This can result in identity theft.

Computer Problems
Did you know that one out of every three computer attacks occur through peer-to-peer file-sharing networks? Hackers know that viruses and spyware can be easily spread through P2P networks, so they take advantage of this. They can simply name a file containing a virus after a popular song. Then when the users open the file, no song plays; instead, their computers get infected.

Uninstall P2P File-Sharing Software

To avoid the consequences from the University and the copyright holding agencies, we recommend that you uninstall your peer-to-peer file-sharing software.

  • Windows – Use Add/Remove Programs to uninstall the software.
  • Mac – Drag the application to the Trash.

Related Policies

More Information