Copyright Reminder

Peer-to-peer file sharing

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing allows individual users of the internet to directly exchange files with each other.  While the technology has many useful applications, unauthorized downloading and sharing of copyrighted works is problematic, and may result in harsh civil and criminal liabilities in addition to university sanctions.  Fines of up to $150,000 in civil statutory damages may apply for each separate willful infringement, regardless of the actual damages involved.  Stanford may also take administrative action against copyright infringement, including loss of networking privileges and SUNet ID, or disciplinary action up to and including termination for faculty and staff, and expulsion for students. 

Copyright owners can, and do, lawfully scan Internet traffic to identify instances where their material is being shared over P2P networks.  When they discover a problem, they can send a complaint to Stanford under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or file a “John Doe” lawsuit against the IP address.  In the latter case, Stanford would have to provide the identity of the Stanford network user.

Copyright damages are usually statutory – that is, determined not by actual damages but by statute.  The minimum damages amount for unintentional infringement is $200 per copyright violation (e.g., file sharing one song or one movie) and willful violations can result in penalties of up to $150,000 per violation.  17 U.S.C. § 504.  File-sharing can also result in criminal prosecutions and sentences of up to 10 years in prison. 17 U.S.C. § 506; 18 U.S.C. § 2319.  It is not uncommon for copyright owners to bring claims against individual Stanford students and staff members who have engaged in unlawful file-sharing.

Stanford computer and network usage policy: Administrative Guide 6.2.1 requires that use of network and computer resources supports the basic missions of the University in teaching, learning and research.  You are responsible for what happens on your system.

Stanford’s Copyright Complaint Policy for students:  Stanford has created a “Three Strikes” policy for dealing with unresolved file-sharing complaints.  More information about Stanford’s student policy can be found at Stanford’s Copyright Complaint Resolution Center website (, Students may be referred to the Office of Community Standards  for unlawfully file-sharing and discipline can be imposed up to an including expulsion.

Stanford’s Copyright Complaint Policy for Faculty and Staff:  When staff receive a first or second complaint, the matter is referred to a supervisor and to HR.  Discipline up to and including termination may be imposed.  If a faculty member at Stanford receives more than one complaint, the matter is referred to a Department Chair.  Upon receipt of a third complaint, Stanford terminates Internet connectivity, including disabling the SUNet ID, and the matter is referred on for discipline:  Faculty are referred to the Provost; and staff are referred to HR and can expect to be terminated.

Technological deterrents:  To combat unlawful file-sharing, Stanford uses Traffic Advisory Notices ( which are sent to the top band-width users at Stanford on a rolling periodic basis.  The Advisory provides information to the recipient about unlawful file-sharing and the consequences of unlawful file-sharing.

Free & legal entertainment on the Internet: There are multiple options to access legal music, TV and movies on the internet, some of which are free.  Some options include:

  • Hulu:
    provides access to recent TV shows and movies on a model supported by limited advertising.
  • Pandora Free Internet Radio:
    provides targeted music selections based on artist or song preferences of the individual listener.
  • Amazon Prime:
    A subscription service that allows you to stream videos to your phone, tablet or other device. 
  • Network websites and apps: Many television networks make programs available to stream on their sites after they are broadcast.