University at Buffalo - The State University of New York
Skip to Content

Keep It Legal

Article by Blake Cooper

Published October 24, 2014

Everybody knows somebody. That person. The one who got caught illegally sharing files on UB’s networks.

Blake Cooper (UB Student, Class of 2016) is originally from Canandaigua, NY. He is studying Spanish, Linguistics and Comparative Literature, and beginning work on translating an Argentinian novel into English.

Chances are he or she was enrolled in UB’s Copyright Infringement Avoidance course. But it could have been a lot worse: it could have gone to court for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Tracy Mitrano, former Director of IT Policy for Cornell University and expert on digital technology and the law, recently gave a talk on the subject for the first event in UB’s Digital Challenges series. In an interview with WBFO about the event, she explained the danger of sharing copyrighted files.

“The number of young people who have gotten into harm’s way for failing to understand tech and the law has resulted in some very unfortunate cases,” Tracy told WBFO. “The RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America, which lobbies and pursues legal action on behalf of record labels] has made poster children out of single mothers who work as administrative assistants who have judgments of more than a million dollars...”

UB’s Role

By contrast, being enrolled in an online course for violating copyright law doesn’t seem that difficult. And it isn’t supposed to be. Mike Behun is UB’s Computer Discipline Officer, and he says the goal of the course is to educate students, because even though Mike believes most of us are aware that sharing copyrighted files is illegal, he admits there are many different circumstances under which someone might be caught violating the law.

“Some students believe that if they pay for something they have the right to share it,” Mike said. “Some students also subscribe to services they think are legal, services that maybe even represent themselves that way, so that’s another point of confusion. There are so many nuances to consider. We just want to get everybody on the same page.”

Part of the copyright course is dedicated to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the legislation that governs digital copyright violations and dictates UB’s role in preventing illegal file sharing.

“Under the DMCA, UB is an internet service provider, the same way Time Warner or Comcast is an Internet Service Provider,” Mike said. “And that means, while we’re not liable directly, we’re required by law to be a ‘safe harbor,’ which means we have to monitor our web traffic and respond to complaints as they come in.”

Stay out of Trouble

Mike says the number of violations on UB’s campuses has been decreasing, which is likely the result of several evolving factors, like the increasing availability of affordable legal streaming options and the decline in popularity of peer-to-peer file sharing in general. But despite the declining numbers, over 400 students were enrolled in the copyright course during the 2013-2014 school year.

To avoid being added to the tally, the advice is simple: stop sharing files on UB’s networks, shut down and uninstall any file sharing programs you might have on your computer (which often default to sharing all available files while your computer is running), and delete any files you downloaded illegally. Your safety and even your future could be at stake.