File sharing is a process where one individual downloads a file from another individual. Shared files, which commonly contain music or movies, can be downloaded directly from the Internet, as well as through smaller "peer to peer" networks. Generally, shared files are stored on and made available by one's personal computer.

Is File Sharing Legal?

There are ways for file sharing to be perfectly legal. However, it is illegal to download or distribute copies of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright owner. Regardless of any ethical controversies surrounding the issue of file sharing, the legal aspects have recently lead to individuals being sued by the music and motion picture industries. 

What Laws Affect File Sharing?

Various U.S. laws protect intellectual property rights. The following federal regulations are commonly invoked with respect to file sharing:

  • The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which criminalizes both production and dissemination of technology that circumvents anti-piracy measures and increases the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet; and
  • The 1997 No Electronic Theft (NET) Act, which outlaws the reproduction, distribution, and sharing of copied electronic copyrighted works (including songs, movies, games, and software programs), even if the copier or distributor acts without commercial purpose and receives no private financial gain.

What Can I Do If I Receive a Copyright Infringement Notice?

It is entirely possible to unwittingly commit copyright infringement. The Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been active in locating and attempting to prosecute individuals who share copyrighted music. Regardless, being unaware that they were violating the law will not be a defense to copyright infringement. Thus, if someone is unaware of the legality of their online activity prior to receiving an infringement notice, they certainly need to quickly becomes familiar the accusations being made against them.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Lack of knowledge is not a defense to copyright infringement. Therefore, if someone has accused you of illegal file sharing or copyright infringement, you should contact an intellectual property lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney will be able to inform you of your rights and if necessary, represent you in court.