How To Not Get Sued for File Sharing

(And Other Ideas To Avoid Being Treated Like a Criminal)

As of July 2006, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has sued over 20,000 music fans for file sharing
in just under three years. In 2004, the Motion Picture
Association of America (MPAA) joined this misguided, anti-consumer crusade.
Filing lawsuits against anonymous "Doe" defendants, the RIAA and MPAA seek to uncover the identities of P2P users and force them
to pay thousands of dollars in settlements. Many innocent individuals are being caught in the crossfire.

While there is no way to know exactly what the RIAA and MPAA are going to do or who they are going to sue, users of publicly-accessible P2P networks can take the following steps to reduce their chances of being sued:

Either:

  • Make sure there are no potentially infringing files in your shared folder. This would ordinarily mean that your shared folder contains only files 1) that are in the public domain, 2) for which you have permission to share, or 3) that are made available under pro-sharing licenses, such as the Creative Commons license or other open media licenses, and
  • Remove all potentially misleading file names that might be confused with the name of an RIAA artist or song (e.g., "Usher" or "Madonna") from your shared folder

Or:

  • Disable the "sharing" or "uploading" features on your P2P application, if your application allows it (see below).

    We hate this option -- it blocks your non-infringing sharing, and it doesn't get us any closer to a real solution that gets artists paid while making file sharing legal. But, at the moment, it does appear that turning off sharing will reduce your chances of becoming a lawsuit target.

    This can usually be accomplished in the "Options" or "Preferences" of your P2P application by removing all shared directories and sometimes setting an explicit option not to
    share files or to allow zero uploads. The specific method will vary depending on your P2P application, but looking at a few examples can give you the general idea.

    EFF suggests (but cannot guarantee) the following links for instructions (you can also try Google searches for ("turn off sharing"+the software's name):

Note: Not all clients allow you to turn off "sharing."
If you use software such as BitTorrent and eDonkey (as well as related clients like Azureus and eMule, respectively), you will automatically be uploading whatever you are currently downloading. In eDonkey, these files may appear in search results and thus become visible to the MPAA and RIAA. In BitTorrent, you must connect to a BitTorrent "tracker" to download a file, and your Internet address is visible to anyone else -- including the MPAA or RIAA -- connected to that tracker. In these instances, you may be at greater risk.

Additional Considerations:

Operating a public BitTorrent tracker that connects users to infringing material may put you at greater risk of being sued.The risk appears to increase with the number of connected users, the number of infringing files associated with the tracker, and the apparent availability to the general public. If you run a public tracker, being vigilant in removing potentially unauthorized files is advised. The RIAA has targeted subpoenas at users who allow their computers to be "Supernodes" on the FastTrack P2P System (used, for instance, by KaZaA or KaZaA Lite). In order to further reduce the risk of having your ISP subpoenaed or of being sued yourself, we recommend that you make sure your computer is not being used as a Supernode. To learn more about Supernodes and how to make sure your computer is not one, look here: Disabling the Supernode function with KaZaA (PDF 331k).

The RIAA and MPAA have sued college students for using publicly-accessible file sharing networks, including systems like i2hub. However, with one particularly notable exception, the RIAA and MPAA have not targeted users downloading or uploading music over closed, college campus intranets -- in other words, students sharing with other students at the same school over the school's own network. Tracking intranet infringements is practically more difficult, though not necessarily impossible.

Similarly, the RIAA and MPAA have not targeted file sharing through instant messaging systems, closed networks such as WASTE (http://waste.sourceforge.net/), and other sharing tools in which users can limit access by third-parties.

What if I've Already Been Sued?

If you receive notice that your ISP has been subpoenaed for your name and address or if you have already been sued, consider contacting EFF or www.subpoenadefense.org, where you can find information about how to defend your privacy and a list of attorneys willing to help. Contact your ISP and ask the people there to notify you immediately if they receive a subpoena seeking your identity.

These links may provide helpful information:

If you receive a cease and desist letter from the RIAA, consider contacting Chilling Effects, where EFF and several law school clinics are creating a gallery of cease and desist letters along with basic information about the claims being made and your rights online.

Want a solution that gets artists paid while protecting P2P file sharing?

We do too! Join or donate to EFF and:

  1. Sign our petition to Congress and take a stand against the P2P lawsuit campaign.
  2. Learn more about alternatives to the lawsuit. EFF's file sharing pages gather together some of the best ideas and describe how similar sorts of technology changes have been handled in the past.
  3. Tell a friend, family member, colleague or even stranger on the street about the damage that the RIAA is doing to the Internet, innovation, and consumer choice. There are over 57 million Americans who use P2P file-sharing -- more than voted for President Bush -- and millions more worldwide -- so chances are good that the person sitting next to you on the bus, walking beside you on the sidewalk or driving in the car in front of you is using file-sharing, too. Start the conversation.

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