DMCA (File Sharing and Copyright)

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act has several components of interest to students. The first concerns music sharing and downloading and the second makes anti-circumvention or even the discussion of anti-circumvention a felony criminal act.

Music Downloading

According to copyright law, a person is able to make a personal copy for his or her own use. The problem comes with file sharing systems that use one's personal copies to share with other users. When the RIAA or a recording company, through their own checking software, finds a computer that has sharing activity, they may issue a Cease and Desist Order to the ISP provider. On campus, Cal Poly is the ISP provider, but off campus the ISP provider could be AOL, CompuServe, etc.

At Cal Poly and other universities eligible for "Safe Harbor" privileges, the student is advised to stop immediately. If the student complies, nothing further happens to the university or the student. Private ISP providers are required to name the "offenders" and the recording industry has been sending Cease and Desist notices and/or subpoenas directly to the individuals. Increasing pressures are being put on universities to also give up the names of individuals.


Anti-circumvention and the criminal penalty imposed by the DMCA are the other parts of the law of special interest to students and academia.

In order to control access to and control the making of copies, companies making CDs have resorted to copy protection devices embedded in the CD. The DMCA makes it illegal to circumvent the device, even if the copy is legal and the device itself is malfunctioning and does not permit the customer to play the CD.

However, the law is more extensive than just outlawing the disabling of an anti-copying device, and outlaws reverse engineering a coded (encrypted) computer security system, outlaws the distribution of a reverse engineering program, and outlaws the altering of a computer program or product works. How could this affect faculty and students? A good example is the case of a computer science professor at Princeton who was threatened with a lawsuit by the RIAA and SDMI if he presented a paper showing a successful reverse engineering program. In 1998, a group of computer security experts signed the WIPO Letter From the InfoSec Community letter concerned that the DMCA might "criminalize many current university courses and research in information security, and severely disrupt a growing American industry in information security technology."

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