Skip to main content

Filesharing Risks

Important facts:

  • It's illegal to distribute copyrighted content, even if you are using a premium fileshare application that you paid for, or copying music off of a CD you purchased.
  • Students can incur network usage charges, by uploading or downloading more than the max GB threshold per month. Find out how many GBs are allowed at the Network Fees and Billing (NUBB) page.
  • If your computer is connected to the Internet, filesharing applications continue uploading files to other people's computers even when the application's window is closed.
  • "Free" movies often have fine print language that downloads filesharing software, like BitTorrent, when you accept the terms.

It is OK to use Dropbox, Box, or other cloud file-sync applications?

Such file collaboration/storage applications don't fall into the same category as the peer-to-peer file sharing applications we discuss here. You should not use these services to share material for which you do not own the copyright. Otherwise, they are safe to use.

Peer-to-Peer File Sharing Explained

Peer-to-peer (P2P) filesharing technology allows users to make files available for other users to download and use. File sharers store files on their computers and the filesharing software enables other users to download the files onto their computers. Examples of P2P filesharing networks include BitTorrent, UTorrent, Gnutella, and LimeWire, among others.

P2P software is only actionable in both criminal and civil court if a court determines that it induces users to infringe copyright. Copyright may be infringed through the practice of copying and distributing protected work without permission of the owner.  If you use P2P software to infringe copyright, you may receive notices of copyright infringement and or be subject to other legal action.

P2P File Sharing Can Violate University Policy

University Policy prohibits the use of the Cornell computer network to violate copyright law. Additionally, University policy forbids activity that threatens the security of the Cornell University network and computing environment. P2P software can undermine network security and expose your computer to threats, such as viruses, malware, password and identity theft, spyware, and other threats that can incapacitate computers.

University policy covering use of the Cornell network extends to any computers you connect to the Cornell network, whether at home or elsewhere off campus. If you’ve registered your wireless router using your NetID, any activity that occurs on the router can be tracked back to you. If you use VPN connections from home, your home network becomes visible as part of the Cornell network.

P2P File Sharing Can Infringe Copyright

Using P2P filesharing software that copies and distributes music, videos, software, games, or other copyrighted works without permission of the copyright holder is a violation of US copyright law. If you have P2P file-sharing applications installed on your computer, you may be sharing copyrighted works without even realizing it. Even if you do not intend to engage in infringing activity, installing P2P software on a computer can easily result in you unintentionally sharing files (copyrighted music or even sensitive documents) with other P2P users, and you may then be personally responsible for the legal and financial consequences.

Content owners, such as the recording industry, movie studios, game, and software companies specifically target unauthorized file sharing on university networks. Aggressive legal strategies have been used to address unauthorized file sharing, such as forwarding the University “early settlement letters” for alleged violations and filing infringement lawsuits. Suits have been filed against thousands of individuals using P2P software worldwide, and Cornell students have been among those threatened with lawsuits.

If you are unsure about the technical capabilities of a P2P program or its potential legal liabilities, contact the IT Service Desk.

About this Guide

Last updated: 

February 20, 2020

Was this page helpful?

Your feedback helps improve the site.