File Sharing

The University of Michigan is in the information business, and that requires sharing of information. However, University policy explicitly prohibits use of its computer systems and networks to violate copyright (see the ResComp Conditions of Use policy). Some forms of file sharing—for example, illegally downloading and sharing MP3 files of popular music—violate copyright. It is important for all users of the University's systems to understand their responsibilities and the University's responsibilities regarding copyright.

Lawful downloading of music and movies is possible through sites such as Apple iTunes, MSN Music, Rhapsody, Ruckus, etc. See the comparison of Online Music Stores (Wikipedia).

User Responsibilities

Members of the University are obligated to know what is and is not allowed under copyright, including appropriate and inappropriate forms of file sharing. Anyone seeking a University computing account is required to review and agree to the terms of the Proper Use of Information Resources, Information Technology, and Networks at the University of Michigan (Standard Practice Guide 601.7) and its accompanying document Guidelines for Implementing the Proper Use Policy of the University of Michigan: Responsible Use of Technology Resources. This policy and its guidelines prohibit copyright infringement and provide information about the sanctions for misusing University networks and IT facilities. ITCS also has a helpful reference guide entitled Ethical and Legal Use of Digital Media: A Guide for Students, Faculty, and Staff of the University of Michigan.

Users are subject to criminal and civil liability for violation of laws related to copyright, and members of the University of Michigan community have been prosecuted successfully for violations of copyright law.

University Responsibilities

The University has two responsibilities: enforcement and education. As an Internet Service Provider (ISP) the University provides network support for many thousands of students, staff and faculty. The University must enforce law and policy related to copyright infringement on its computer systems and networks. This includes infringements such as illegal sharing of music as identified by the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA. The RIAA has cited the University's compliance procedures and education campaigns as models for higher education.

The law that governs many of the University's actions with regard to copyright is the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). The DMCA requires the University to assign a DMCA Agent to notify users accused of violating copyrights through file sharing or other means that a complaint against them has been received. Such users must then either remove the material or inform the DMCA Agent that s/he is not in violation. When the DMCA Agent receives notice that there is no violation, the user is then put in touch with the complaining party to work out resolution of the complaint. If the user does not respond to the DMCA Agent's notification in a timely manner, the user's network access to the disputed material is blocked.

The University's educational efforts take many forms. Incoming students at orientation participate in the "Smart Computing" session where issues of file sharing, software piracy, copyright law, and appropriate use of University IT resources are discussed. Many complaints about file sharing target students in the residence halls, and all students living in residence halls receiving a U-M computing account must agree to the ResComp Conditions of Use. This policy specifically prohibits sharing of copyrighted works. Violations of the ResComp Conditions of Use can result in sanctions ranging from user education to termination of network access. ResComp staff hold frequent workshops on legal alternatives to file sharing to educate students about services such as Apple's iTunes Music Store. ResCompTV and the on-campus cable channel also run similar programming. Residence computing services employs software that shapes and limits the bandwidth available for file sharing, making the residence halls less attractive for illegal file sharing activities.

House Judiciary Committee Survey of University Network and Data Integrity Practices

On May 2nd, 2007, President Mary Sue Coleman received a survey about the University of Michigan's practices with regard to network and data integrity from members of the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.

The House Judiciary Committee survey, the University's response, and the University's cover letter are available for download in PDF, along with an Excel spreadsheet of appendices.

Other Resources

Press Releases

Page maintained by Melissa Smith Levine
Last modified: 10/08/2015