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Keep it Legal

By Dan Heuskin

Published October 14, 2016

If you get caught downloading illegal files on UB’s networks, chances are you’ll be enrolled in UB’s Copyright Infringement Avoidance course. But it isn’t a punishment. it’s a way to avoid a hefty fine and better understand the more confusing points of copyright law in the U.S.

Why it matters

Daniel Heuskin (UB Student, Class of 2017) is originally from Long Island, NY. He is studying English at UB with aspirations to become a teacher or writer. In his free time, he enjoys playing bass guitar, doing nature photography, writing songs and reading.

Although many of us know the difference between legal and illegal file sharing, sometimes it’s not so simple. The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which governs U.S. copyrights, is 60 pages of dense legalese.

Buried amidst the jargon is a clause stating that Internet service providers (including UB) are "safe harbors." This means that UB—and any other university that provides Internet service—can’t be sued if you break copyright law while using university-provided Internet; the only one who can be sued is you. This is the same for any ISP (Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T, etc.).  

If you didn’t know how this works, you’re not alone; most U.S. citizens don’t understand the nuances of copyright law. Since enforcement of similar laws varies widely from country to country, UB’s roughly 5,000 international students from more than 100 countries can’t be expected to fully understand U.S. copyright law after having just arrived here.

That’s one major reason why the Copyright Infringement Avoidance course exists: to give students who don’t understand how copyright law works (almost all of us!) a second chance before they’re subject to potentially exorbitant fines.

Educate yourself

“Some students believe that if they pay for something, they have the right to share it,” says Mike Behun, UB’s Computer Discipline Officer. “Other students subscribe to services they think are legal—services that may even represent themselves as legal—which becomes yet another point of confusion.”

UB’s Copyright Infringement Avoidance course is designed to shed light on some of the more confusing nuances of copyright violation and law. This method of correction, which educates rather than punishes first-time copyright violators, is proving quite effective.

“The majority of violations occur at the beginning of the semester, when many new students don’t understand the seriousness of illegal file sharing and downloading,” Mike explains. “Once the notices go out, the number of violations always drops.” On average, the number of violations has dropped each year for the past five years.

“Thankfully, most students address the issue quickly,” says Mike. “Multiple violations lead to a judicial hearing with the university, and we’d always prefer to educate rather than discipline.”