Technology Advisory from
Ray Phillips, Dir. of Information Technology Services
October 7, 2002

KaZAa, Morpheus, Aimster, Gnutella, etc.

Computers can be used to make copies of a wide assortment of digital material including software, images, audio recordings, and videos. Distributing or receiving copies of any material protected by copyright without permission of the copyright holder is a violation of federal and state law and Colby policy. Felony charges carrying severe penalties could be brought in state or federal court, and the owner of the copyright could also seek compensation in civil court.

The Information Technology Services staff does not monitor individual computer use on the campus network but, in the process of investigating network traffic congestion or other problems, may become aware of violations of the law or College policy and will report this information as required by law and in the code of ethics. However, organizations such as those in the recording, film, and software industries, as well as federal, state, and local law enforcement organizations, are actively observing what people here at Colby are providing to others on the Internet from their computers. There is no anonymity on the Internet. Be aware that every computer file you download or make available to others through the Internet is subject to investigation by those entities outside the College and, if found to be in violation of copyright, may result in criminal prosecution and civil litigation.

Colby’s Acceptable Use Policy (printed in the student handbook and available on the web at specifies that violations of copyright make one subject to disciplinary action. It also warns that federal, state, and local criminal and civil prosecution may occur. In recent years at Bates and at the University of Oregon, it was the institution that discovered the violations and reported them to law enforcement authorities for investigation. The law requires reporting such violations.

Think this can’t happen to you since all you are doing is downloading MP3 files? During a 48-hour period near the end of September, we processed a series of complaints from organizations representing the recording, software, and film industries identifying computers at Colby that are illegally making software, digital music, and/or video files available to others on the Internet. The students who own these computers have received notification from me that we have received complaints about their actions and that they are putting themselves in jeopardy of federal criminal and civil legal action. This process is described in the policy document describing Colby’s implementation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ( This process has not been a pleasant experience for these students but is minor in comparison to what can happen if prosecution and civil litigation occurs. Some students claim not to know that they had installed this server function on their computers when they installed the program for downloading music. KaZAa does not function without there being servers and if you have KaZAa installed, your computer most likely is a server. This is true of the other common peer-to-peer (P2P) applications as well. Ignorance of this function is not likely to be a very good defense.

The law requires that we abide by the limitations specified by copyright holders. If you are distributing (uploading/serving) or accessing (downloading) unauthorized copies of computer software, still images, video, audio files (MP3 or other formats), or any other copyrighted material, you are putting yourself at great risk. Even if you are not the person who has put the copyrighted material in the server you run (it might have been put there by another KaZAa user), you are responsible for what you are distributing. Things could rapidly get much worse for you if somebody puts other kinds of illegal files, such as child pornography, on the server you have created. Do not run any application on your computer to share/access/distribute files unless you are sure that you are not violating copyright and other laws in the process.

You may think that you are “only” illegally downloading music files but you are, in all likelihood, also a distributor of illegal copies. That server function may even be running when you think you are not running the application and uninstalling the application may not remove the server. You may not even have installed the software if it was another person being “helpful” in adding this “cool” application to your computer. Nevertheless, it is your computer and you are responsible for what is done with it.

One final note: Articles in the NY Times on Friday and today (Monday) report efforts in federal court by the recording and film industries to more actively pursue copyright violators, not only those distributing files but also those downloading them. Depending on the decisions there, complaints about copyright violations may soon be going directly to the accused violators and not to the network administration, as currently happens. If those organizations obtain your name and direct their complaints directly to you, you are much more likely to quickly become involved in criminal or civil court action.

If you have any questions or comments, please send me e-mail at, call 3582, or see me in Lovejoy 105.