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Protect Yourself Online

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. Millions of users could be connected to each other through this software at one time. 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 mired in legal issues. 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:

  • Set up the file-sharing software very carefully.
  • 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.

Online Copyright Issues

Quite simply, to make or download unauthorized copies of software is to break the law, no matter how many copies are involved. Whether you are casually making a few copies for friends, loaning disks, distributing and/or downloading pirated software via the Internet, or buying a single software program and then installing it on 100 computers, you are committing a copyright infringement. It doesn't matter if you make money or not. 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 stop you from using its software immediately and can also request monetary damages. The copyright owner can sue for as much as $150,000 for each program copied. In addition, the government can criminally prosecute you for copyright infringement. If convicted, you can be fined up to $250,000, be 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.