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Copyright Issues

It is illegal to make or download unauthorized copies of software or online media, such as books, music, and videos. Whether you are casually making a few copies for friends, lending disks, distributing and/or downloading pirated software via the Internet, or buying a single software program and then installing it on many computers, you are committing a copyright infringement. It does not matter whether or not you make money doing it. If you or your company is caught copying software, you may be held liable under both civil and criminal law.

If the copyright owner brings a civil action against you, the owner can seek to stop you from using its software immediately and can request monetary damages. The copyright owner can sue for as much as $150,000 for each program copied. In addition, the government can prosecute you criminally for copyright infringement. If convicted, you can be fined up to $250,000, sentenced to jail for up to five years, or both.

For more information contact the U.S. Department of Justice or the Business Software alliance, with content on online piracy issues.

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Online File Sharing

Every day, millions of computer users share files online. Whether it is music, games, video, or software, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing allows users to share all kinds of content. To share files, you download special software that connects your computer to an informal network of other computers running the same software. The software is often free and easy to access.

However, file sharing can have a number of risks. For example, when you are connected to file-sharing programs, you could unknowingly allow others to copy private files you never intended to share. You could download material that is protected by copyright laws and find yourself with legal issues as a result. You could download a virus or facilitate a security breach. Or you could unwittingly download pornography labeled as something else.

To secure the personal information stored on your computer, the FTC suggests that you:

  • Be aware of spyware. Use a good anti-spyware program.
  • Close your connection when you're not using it.
  • Use an effective anti-virus program and update it regularly.
  • Talk with your family about file sharing.

For more complete information on P2P, visit the FTC's website, OnguardOnline.

Do You Really Own Those Songs?

You may purchase music and e-books as digital downloads to play on digital music players or mobile devices. However, just because you buy the file, doesn’t mean you actually own the song. A media service provider sells you a license to listen to your downloaded music, but that license may restrict your ability to lend, share, transfer, or burn the contents of your music library. You may be able to use the songs on several devices (phone, tablet, music player); the rules vary from provider to provider. Before you download or click “I Agree,” know your rights under the terms of service agreement. For more information about digital copyright, contact the United States Patent and Trademark Office.