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File Sharing Software

revised December 2015


With the excitement of a new academic year filled with new classes and activities at Caltech, you may think this page about downloading music, movies, TV shows or software is not important, but it could save you from having to pay a lot for entertainment.

Using file sharing programs such as BitTorrent, or other programs that use BitTorrent in the background (such as Popcorn Time), on your computer to download (copy) and distribute copyright protected material is a violation of federal copyright law. Such programs can often be active without your knowledge.

The use of file sharing programs to get copyright protected material can have major consequences for you.

Copying material you do not own to your computer is an act of copyright infringement, and with file sharing software you are also uploading (distributing) that material to many others – the upload being a separate act of infringement. Copyright violations can result in civil penalties of up to $150,000 for each act of infringement. Suits brought by copyright owners against students usually settle for much less, but still have involved settlement amounts of as much as $17,000, plus attorney fees.

Anyone connecting to a BitTorrent swarm, including copyright holders can identify computer addresses downloading and uploading copyrighted files. This has led to pre-litigation settlement notices being sent to students, requiring students to pay from $300 to $1200 to avoid the copyright owner filing a lawsuit.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects Caltech from being accused of infringement when a student’s illegal download passes through our servers, but it requires us to act expeditiously to remove or block access to material upon receipt of notice from a copyright holder that their material is being illegally distributed on our network. On campus, we block Internet access to the infringing material and send an e-mail to the student explaining why their computer's Internet connection has been blocked. The student is then referred to the Dean, who will authorize the Internet connection to be unblocked.  Under Caltech’s DMCA policy, repeat offenders may have their IMSS accounts terminated.

How can you protect yourself?

  • Do not download music, games, software, TV shows or videos unless it is clear that they are being distributed legally.  Remember that music and videos you buy are for your use only, and your purchase does not include the right to distribute copies unless you have explicit permission to do so.

  • Do not use file-sharing software, or be sure it is not available for illegal use by others. If you have questions about configuring your computer, please contact IMSS.

  • Remember to not leave your computer running and unattended. As the owner of the computer, any copyright violation that is traced to your computer is your responsibility.

There is an endless variety of free or low-cost TV shows, movies, and videos of all types available legally on the Internet.

Also, remember that every music recording, movie, TV show, computer program and video involves the valuable time and effort of countless individuals who deserve to be compensated for their work.

If you have any questions, please contact the Caltech Office of the General Counsel at 626-395-6182 or email