Is Sharing Caring?

Source: tehparadox.com

In class this week…well, more like a week and a half, we are talking about file sharing. This includes posting pictures of you and your friend to Facebook all the way to illegally downloading a copy of the movie Avatar in full Blu-Ray HD 3D. While there are both legal and illegal forms of file sharing, I think it often comes with a negative connotation. However, file sharing is completely 100% legal. It is when you start getting into copyrighted material that it becomes illegal.

This is where things get really tricky. While it is unlikely you will get convicted of illegally sharing or downloading files, the more you do it the higher you chance of getting caught becomes. According to the RIAA’s website, some penalties that can come from illegally sharing or downloading music ranges from $750 per song all the way up to $250,000 and/or 5 years in prison.

Crazy right? I think it is super easy to forget how serious issues like this can become when it seems so…available. To make things even more complicated, I am going to through fair use into the equation. While I am not an expert on what fair use is, I checked the details of the law for some examples. There are four main aspects to the law, which includes: the nature of use, the nature of the copyrighted material, the amount taken, and the effect it has on the copyrighted work’s market. Things that are covered under fair use include academic work and making parodies of the original content. So maybe that song you took from YouTube for a class project would be covered under Fair Use…however, I wouldn’t count on that saving you every time you share or download copyright protected files.

Source: the-digital-reader.com

While I could write 10 blogs worth of material on copyright and fair use alone, I want to move onto something that I have always wondered about when it comes to file sharing, and that is console emulation. A quick explanation as to what this means for those unfamiliar – emulators are pieces of software designed to replicate various consoles (like Xbox, Playstation, N64, etc) on your computer so you can play essentially any game on your computer. There is a lot of debate as to the legal nature of this…some people insist that it is perfectly legal while others claim that it goes against copyright laws.

Source: Fantasyanime.com

There are a lot of rumors out there regarding the legitimacy of these methods to play video games. One of these includes the extra copy rule, which states that so long as you own a physical copy of a game, you can back it up through various means to your computer. Another rumor goes to say that it is legal to download or share ROMs/emulators so long as you are not monetizing the process. There is debate as to whether it is legal or not to download software from games and console systems that are no long produced/sold or whose companies no longer exist.

So, do any of these claims have any legal standing?

As it turns out, none of these are true. According to the DMCA, all copies of ROMs are illegal. It doesn’t matter how you got them, if you did not pay for the second copy of your game, it is still an illegal copy. There is still some debate whether simulating console software is legal or not, but the general consensus when it comes to the ROM files of games is that it is illegal. Period. Nintendo does a pretty good job of laying out their rules concerning their software and intellectual property, which for them also includes emulators. While this blog only covers the issue from a legal/illegal standpoint, file sharing as a whole I feel is still a very gray area. There are studies going around that suggest people who download media illegally also have a higher chance of legally buying other works. This is where my blog ends, but this topic is far from over. I am sure we will be hearing more about the pros and cons to file sharing (specifically illegal forms) in the future to come. Until then, stay updated and make smart choices.

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