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Downloading & P2P File Sharing

Many people see the activity of downloading files that are available on the Internet as harmless. The assumption is that if the files weren't allowed to be shared, they wouldn't be on the Internet in the first place. In most cases, files that are copyright protected and on the Internet include copyright language, warning that the usage of the files without the copyright holder's authorization is illegal.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing occurs when digital files are transferred between "peer" computers over the Internet using software such as LimeWire, BitTorrent, or Kazaa. As a channel for content distribution, P2P changes the conventional hierarchy of information. The roles of producer, consumer, and gatekeeper of digital content blur, and more information and resources can be delivered to more people and applications than otherwise would be possible. P2P has the potential to play an important, positive role in the fulfillment of institutional missions of teaching, research, and the dissemination of knowledge.

However, with the adoption of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA), the advantages that P2P offers also bring risks and concerns about unauthorized downloading. The Act recognizes the changes in technology and how more and more consumers access materials such as music and movies from online sources. Below are some ways to stay within the law when accessing online content.

Legal Downloading

The Higher Education Opportunity Act requires all colleges and universities to offer legal alternatives to unauthorized downloading. Educause provides this list of these legal alternatives. The products or services listed are in no way endorsed or evaluated by MIT.

Disabling P2P File Sharing

The best way to use P2P software for sharing files for teaching, research or other legitimate purposes and avoid the inadvertent sharing of unauthorized files, is by changing the default setting within the software from being set to "sharing" to "not sharing."

Disabling file sharing software can also protect a computer's files containing sensitive data from unauthorized access by someone who intends to do harm. To learn more about P2P and the risks to sensitive data, visit the IS&T Security website.

See the Resources page for more information on P2P file sharing and safe downloading.

 
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