File sharing & copyright

What you need to know about file sharing and copyright at IU

Unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material including the sharing of copyrighted music, movies, and software through peer-to-peer applications like BitTorrent, PopcornTime, and others using Indiana University's information technology resources is against the law and university policy. Unlawful file sharing may subject you to legal penalties, which can include any or all of the following:

  • Having to pay money to the copyright holder as a result of a lawsuit
  • Having to pay the copyright holder's costs and attorney fees to bring the lawsuit
  • Criminal fines of up to $250,000, and up to 10 years' jail time — even if someone sharing files doesn't sell or charge for them
  • Seizure and destruction of infringing files

Additionally, the university may impose sanctions, including loss of network access and disciplinary action. Read more about copyright law and policy on the Violations page.

Every day, millions of computer users share files online. Whether it is music, games, or software, file sharing can give people access to a wealth of information. To share files through a P2P network, you download special software that connects your computer to other computers running the same software. Millions of users could be connected to each other through this software at one time. The software often is free.

Sounds promising, right? Maybe, but make sure that you consider the trade-offs. File sharing can have a number of risks. For example, when you are connected to file-sharing programs, you may unknowingly allow others to copy private files — even giving access to entire folders and subfolders — you never intended to share. You may share material that is protected by copyright laws and find yourself mired in legal issues. You may download a virus or facilitate a security breach. Or you may unwittingly download pornography labeled as something else.

Avoid P2P - The safest way to avoid copyright infringement trouble is to avoid using peer-to-peer and other file sharing software altogether.

Educate yourself - Learn how peer-to-peer (P2P) software works and how the software can be used to illegally pirate music and movies by infringing on copyrighted works, and then avoid it.

Recognize the difference - Services that provide music legally will not usually have confusing warnings telling you how to use their software legally. Legal sites should also have documentation available proving that their service doesn't violate copyright.

Get permission to share - Confirm that the distributor of a file you are interested in downloading has permission from the copyright holder to distribute it. Assume you don't have permission to download or distribute a file unless you have proof to the contrary.

Use legal alternatives - There are plenty of legal alternatives - and plenty of options: including pay-per-song, subscription, and streaming. Many are free. Also note, free doesn't always mean illegal, and not all paid services are legal. It's your job to make sure.

Disable outbound sharing - If you still intend to use peer-to-peer or other file sharing software, ensure that it's not configured to automatically share the files on your computer. If configured improperly, malware (viruses), spyware, or identity theft could await you. Learn how.

Ever loan your computer? - Be aware when others use your computer. If the machine connected to the network is registered to you, you'll be the one contacted during an incident.

Ask - If all else fails, ask -- the software company in question, the RIAA, a lawyer, or contact us at We're not lawyers, but we'll give you our informed opinion.

The following list is composed of some of the more popular legal alternatives available (this is not a complete list!). Indiana University promotes the use of these solutions only in that they provide legal methods for downloading music/movies; IU does not endorse any specific commercial product.


We will also do our best to provide additional resources that the above sites have not listed. If you would like to submit a site to us to post on this page, send us an email at and we will review it.

Movies & TV



Sharing your passphrase may seem like a good way to allow others access to your information but did you know that it is a violation of University policy and allows them to connect devices to the IU network which will you will be responsible for?

Install file-sharing software carefully

Know what's being shared. When you load a file-sharing application onto your computer, any changes you make to the P2P software's default settings during installation could cause serious problems. For example, if you change the defaults when you set up the "shared" or "save" folder, you may let other P2P users into any of your folders — and all its subfolders. You could inadvertently share information on your hard drive — like your tax returns, email messages, medical records, photos, or other personal documents — along with the files you want to share. And almost all P2P file-sharing applications will, by default, share the downloads in your "save" or "download" folder — unless you set it not to.

Use security software and keep it and your operating system up-to-date

Some file-sharing programs may install malware that monitors a user's computer use and then sends that data to third parties. Files you download may also hide malware, viruses, or other unwanted content. And when you install a P2P file-sharing application, you might be required to install "adware" that monitors your browsing habits and serves you advertising.

Malware and adware can be difficult to detect and remove. Before you use any file-sharing program, get a security program that includes anti-virus and anti-spyware protection from a vendor you know and trust and make sure that your operating system is up to date. Set your security software and operating system to be updated regularly. Make sure your security software and firewall are running whenever your computer is connected to the Internet.

Delete any software the security program detects that you don't want on your computer. And before you open or play any downloaded files, scan them with your security software to detect malware or viruses.

Close your connection

In some instances, closing the file-sharing program window does not actually close your connection to the network. That allows file sharing to continue and could increase your security risk. If you have a high-speed or "broadband" connection to the Internet, you stay connected to the Internet unless you turn off the computer or disconnect your Internet service. These "always on" connections may allow others to copy your shared files at any time. To be sure your file-sharing program is closed, take the time to "exit" the program, rather than just clicking "X" or "closing" it. What's more, some file-sharing programs automatically open every time you turn on your computer. As a preventive measure, you may want to adjust the file-sharing program's controls to prevent the file-sharing program from automatically opening.

Create separate user accounts

If more than one person uses your computer, consider setting up separate user accounts, in addition to the administrator's account, and give those user accounts only limited rights. Since only a user with administrator rights can install software, this can help protect against software you don't want on your computer. It also can keep users from accessing other users' folders and subfolders, since users with limited rights generally don't have access to each other's information. Also use a password to protect your firewall and security software so no one else can disable them or grant themselves rights that you don't want them to have on your machine.

Back up sensitive documents

Back up files that you'd want to keep if your computer crashes. Securely store them on CDs, DVDs, or detachable drives that you keep in a safe place.

Talk with your family about file sharing

If you're a parent, ask your children whether they've downloaded file-sharing software, and if they've exchanged games, videos, music, or other material. Talk to your kids about the security and other risks involved with file-sharing and how to install the software correctly, if they're going to use P2P file-sharing at all. If you're a teen or tween interested in file sharing, talk with your parents before downloading software or exchanging files.

Indiana University believes that copyright infringement via illegal file sharing and downloading can be curbed by an increase in awareness and education, rather than short-term technological network barriers. The Information Policy and Security Offices hope that awareness of these issues and their consequences will yield more knowledgeable students, faculty, and staff.

It is the goal of this site and the resources herein to provide a foundation for learning about the DMCA and related laws, and also to aid you in your awareness campaign.

Indiana University is committed to increasing the knowledge and awareness about this issue through a variety of media. Such examples include:

Creating IU computing accounts

All users, including students, faculty, staff, and affiliate users, at Indiana University read and agree to a set of outlined terms, including explicit language related to the sharing of copyrighted content.

Connecting computers to the IU network

Any user wishing to connect their personal computer to the IU network on any campus is reminded of the terms they agreed to upon account creation.

Video at new student orientation

A video about IT at IU is shown to all new students during the orientation process, in which legal and safe music and movie downloading is mentioned.

Moving into campus housing

Materials are distributed to all students that include verbiage related to legal downloading and file sharing.

Bulletin board kits

Provided to resident assistants to display in public areas of on-campus residence halls.


Posters in Student Technology Centers (computer labs) and residence halls across multiple campuses.


Advertisements placed in local and student-run newspapers on multiple campuses.

Email to all IU students

An email to all IU students on every campus was sent outlining the dangers of illegal file sharing, the seriousness of copyright infringement lawsuits, and what students can do to educate and protect themselves.

Tutorials and education

Online tutorials, education, and progressive discipline process for those users implicated in copyright infringement violations. Read the tutorials.

Indiana University has drafted a plan to effectively combat unlawful distribution of copyrighted material over the university network, as per the Higher Education Opportunity Act.

Read the plan for Indiana University Bloomington. Similar plans exist for each campus. Please contact us at to obtain them, or for more information.