Illegal Downloading & File Sharing | Webster University

Illegal Downloading & File Sharing

Downloading Without Paying: Why is it illegal?

When a movie or song is produced and marketed, everyone involved in the process has monetary gains from the sale of that product. Therefore, that product is protected by copyright law so that it cannot be copied, reproduced or resold without their permission. If you did not pay for a song, movie or other media file that has a copyright, then downloading that file is a crime. Likewise, distributing a copyrighted media file, whether via electronic or non-electronic methods, without the express permission of the copyright holder is also illegal.

Who's Watching?

The two primary groups that police the downloading of music and movies are the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). These two groups constantly monitor downloads and websites for copyright violation. They tend to pay close attention to colleges and universities. When they see that a song or movie has been downloaded illegally, they notify the school who then takes steps to internally identify the person who downloaded the file. There can be serious legal and financial ramifications to illegal downloading.

At Webster, Information Technology (IT) receives infringement notifications from the RIAA or MPAA. IT immediately makes a copy of the logs which enables activity to be traced back to a specific Internet port. Each port is associated with a person. Once the person has been identified, the information is turned over to the governing body for that individual (such as the Dean or Associate Dean of Students if the person lives on campus) for disciplinary actions.

Consequences of Illegal Downloading

Legal & Monetary

Most of us don't have over half a million dollars lying around the house. But, if you download files which you have not paid for or share files without the permission of the copyright holder, you just might have to pay that much. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, distribution of copyright materials is punishable by law. Those found guilty of copyright infringement may face the following penalties:

  • Up to five years in jail
  • Fines and charges of up to $150,000 per file
  • In addition to any other charges that might be brought against you, the copyright holder can file suit, which can result in legal fees and damages that must be paid.

Recent cases have resulted in judgments against the person distributing the files for up to $80,000 per file. Here are some examples:

  • "A federal jury on Friday concluded that a 25-year-old college student must pay $675,000 — or $22,500 for each of the 30 songs he was found liable of infringing" (
  • In Minnesota, Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a single mother, was fined $80,000 for each of 24 songs, resulting in a total of $1,920,000, almost 2 million dollars.

Viruses & Spyware

Illegal downloading places your computer at high risk of receiving viruses. Most illegal downloading is done through Peer-to-Peer (P2P) software, which allows people to share their files with others. Since you have no idea where you are getting the files from, you have no way of knowing if they are infected with viruses or spyware.  Downloading infected files to your computer could result in loss of data, excessive pop ups, slow Internet connection and possible identity theft.  An active anti-virus software will not always protect you from viruses obtains through P2P software.

How to Prevent Illegal Downloading & Sharing

Most Peer-to-Peer (P2P) software (see examples below) has file-sharing features that are turned on by default making any song or movie files on your computer available to others for download. In effect, you are distributing copyright materials without even knowing it. Know what software you have on your computer and how it works. Turn off any file-sharing options.

If you have a wireless router setup in your dorm room or apartment, be sure to setup security, including a good password. Only give that password to people you trust. If someone connects to your wireless router and downloads or shares files illegally, that activity will be traced back to you and you will be held liable.

If you are a student living on the Webster Groves campus, you can take your computer, for free, to the ResTech office, and they will help you remove or disable any file sharing software that might be on your computer.

Examples of Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Downloading and Sharing Software

  • Limewire
  • Kazaa
  • Bearshare
  • BitTorrent
  • Ares


Fact and Fiction

Fiction Fact
No one at Webster has ever been caught for downloading music or movies illegally. Every semester multiple people at Webster are notified of their violations of copyright law.
Even if I do get caught there are no consequences. I'm small time. Besides the laws which can fine you up to $250,000 and sentence you to five years in prison (that's for a first time offender), illegal downloading is against Webster acceptable use policy and can result in disciplinary action.
There is no way for Webster to trace a download back to me. I'm safe. If illegal downloading takes place on Webster's network it can be traced by the RIAA/MPAA and Webster's IT department back to the computer that received the file.
Downloading a song or movie is not really stealing. If this is a song or movie that you would typically have to pay for and you download it without paying it is stealing. There is no difference between taking a CD from a store and downloading your favorite song. Both are stealing.
If I am downloading on my own personal computer that is connected to the Webster network, I am safe. Any illegal downloading which takes place on a personally owned computer, if it occurs while that computer is connected to Webster's network, is still governed by our Acceptable Use Policy.