Sued For Downloading?
More and more, people are asking me if they can get sued by the entertainment industry for downloading, music, movies, games or television shows. The answer is YES, maybe. Read on and learn how to download safely, and avoid the snares of the RIAA, MPAA and copyright lawyers...
Can I Get Sued For Downloading?
It's easy to get a false sense of anonymity while on the Internet. So many people on it, so many websites, so many files available to download and share. Downloading and sharing files are among the more popular tasks web surfers do from their computers. From music to movies to games, there are so many files out there just waiting to hop onto your hard drive.
But… is it legal to download and/or share all these goodies? And what if something you download is copyrighted, and it turns out you're a pirate? In the vastness that is the Internet, who's gonna know?
The fact is, anyone who has an interest in protecting copyrighted material may know. Take the case of college student Cassi Hunt. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), an organization that acts as a watchdog for copyright infringements against recording artists, filed a lawsuit against Cassi in 2006. They sued the MIT student for allegedly downloading over two-hundred songs from a file-sharing website. Negotiations resulted in a demand for $3750, and the RIAA went so far as to suggest that she drop out of college or attend a community college so she could afford the payments.
Lawyers for the RIAA, MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and NBC Universal have also gone after 12-year-olds, grandmas and even dead people, charging them with software piracy and copyright infringement. In some cases they demand immediate payment, while others have been threatened with legal action.
Obviously, someone is watching what you download or share with others over the Internet. It is rumored that RIAA, MPAA and other copyright watchdogs monitor the traffic on P2P networks. It's also possible that Internet service providers may provide them with logs that reveal illegal activity. And if you use software such as LimeWire that enables automatic sharing of downloaded files, it's very easy for a third party to catch you in the act.
P2P and File Sharing Networks: What's Legal?
Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing services like Limewire and BitTorrent allow users to share files and exchange directly from their hard drives, without going through a website or centralized file sharing service. There are a lot of BitTorrent software and sites available; uTorrent and TorrentSpy are among the more widely used. Software like this has been at the forefront of intellectual property debates; although the P2P and torrent software is legal to use, a lot of people are illegally downloading and sharing copyrighted files like music and movies. (See What is Limewire File Sharing? and Downloading With Bittorrent for more information on those topics.)
So how do you know what is legit or not? Here's a good rule of thumb to follow: If a popular song, movie, tv show or computer game is offered as a free download on a file-sharing service such as LimeWire, Bittorrent or Kazaa, it's almost certainly an illegal copy. It doesn't matter if you're downloading for "personal use" or that you're not selling the files to anyone. If you download copyrighted material without the owner's permission, you have violated the law, and there's a chance you will be called on it.
With services like iTunes, or Napster, you pay a small fee to download music. And because Napster and iTunes have agreements with recording labels, there are no legal or copyright concerns. If you are paying for the file, chances are the site offering it is adhering to copyright laws. Unless you know for sure the files you are downloading or sharing are not copyrighted, there is always a risk that you can find yourself named in some class-action lawsuit filed by the RIAA or the MPAA.
And yes, there are programs such as PeerGuardian, Protowall and others that will help to anonymize your Bittorrent activities. Will they protect you 100 percent? Maybe today... maybe not tomorrow. Is it worth the risk?
You can safely download by using sites that only search for legal files. Don't get a false sense of security by thinking why would anyone go after you when there are millions of people downloading files. There are individuals who are paid solely to seek out copyright infringements. Use common sense; a box-office hit movie currently in the theatres is most likely a pirated copy whether it is being offered on the Internet for download, or by some guy on a street corner selling DVDs on a blanket.
Independent filmmakers and struggling musicians often willingly allow their projects for download, hoping to create enough of a fan-base to generate some buzz about their work. If you are interested in a particular form of data whether it be a song, movie or computer program, it pays to check the creator's website to see if they have legal, downloadable files to offer. Follow these tips, and can you'll be able to download with a clear conscience and no fear of fines or legal action.
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 7 Aug 2007
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Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved