File Sharing & Copyright


Be able to intelligently discuss issues related to use of file sharing technologies.


You have just created an amazing song that everyone loves. They want to hear it again, and again, and again. You would like them to show their appreciation by giving you money.

Unfortunately, you live in a country where there are no laws about music. Anyone can play your song, sell it, and get the money for it.

If you could have one wish granted about what the laws would be regarding music, what would the law be?

Teaching Notes

To capture the student interest, start with something about how students get music, movies, and images.

Many students already share these files, download them, or stream copyrighted items.

The goal is to discuss the laws regarding this so the students know:

  • what is legal,
  • what is not legal, and
  • what people's rights are regarding "intellectual property".

Focus on addressing what students are already doing or seeing.

Talk about what rights the student believe they should have to their works.


Case #1 -- Video -- Jammie Thomas -- Single mother fined $220 thousand dollars for sharing 24 songs. Update 11/2/2010

Case #2 -- Article


Case #3 -- Video -- Joel Tenenbaum -- Student fined $670 thousand dollars for sharing 30 songs. Update 11/9/2010


Classroom Discussion Questions

In Notepad, write very clear answers for each question.

  1. What is file sharing?
  2. What types of files are shared? (images, sound/music, video, documents, games, books)
  3. How do people share files using the Internet? (email, web sites, Web2.0, peer-to-peer [LimeWire, Torrent, etc.])
  4. What does "peer-to-peer" mean? (compare peer-to-peer vs. client-server)
  5. How does a "peer-to-peer" file sharing program work? (see images and/or video)
  6. What are the issues with file sharing? (sometimes illegal, especially is copyrighted)
  7. What are the consequences for violating copyright laws? (student in college, 30 year old mother)
  8. What is a copyright? (see "Copyright Rights" below)
  9. What can be copyrighted? (books, videos/movies, programs, books, images)
  10. What has to be done to get a copyright? (nothing, just write it down or record it, but to prove you made it, it should be registered)
  11. Does a copyright mean no one can use it? (no, there is a "fair use" law)
  12. How can a person know if something is copyrighted? (see "Copyright Length" below)
  13. What if someone wants to share their work? (they can use, public domain and Creative Commons)
  14. How do computers on the internet "know" where to send something? (Using an IP Address.)

Copyright Rights

Exclusive rights to:

  • make money on it
  • make and sell copies
  • make something based on the copyrighted item
  • read or show it publically
  • transit it over the radio, internet, mail, etc.
  • sell some or all of these rights

Here is the copyright record for Nine Inch Nails Ghosts I-IV

Items that can be registered can be looked up in the United States Copyright Office.

Copyright Length

How long does copyright last?

  • Until the author dies plus 70 years (law since 1978) - depends on country
  • If it was published before 1923, it does not have a copyright
  • There are lots of free books online from before 1923
  • See Project Gutenberg -- Examples: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Dracula, Huckleberry Finn, etc.
  • If published between 1923 and 1978, it depends
  • When the copyright expires, it is called "in the Public Domain"

Steamboat Willie

Copyright able Items

What can be copyrighted?

(1) literary works;
(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;
(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
(7) sound recordings; and
(8) architectural work



Public Performances

Public performance -- Restaurants sued for playing music without ASCAP/BMI licenses

Buying public performance rights -- and



Write a short essay in NotePad (or Word) about file sharing. Make sure to include answers to these questions:

  • What is file sharing?
  • When is it okay?
  • When is it not okay?



Websites for Legally Obtaining Music and Videos

Music - Online Music Stores

  • Rhapsody
  • Napster
  • iTunes -- License Agreement and Usage Rules -- (scroll down to usage rules) -- limits: 5 devices max, 7 burns, personal, noncommercial
    • "You shall be authorized to use Products on five Apple-authorized devices at any time..."
    • "You shall be authorized to burn an audio playlist up to seven times." How to Burn a Playlist
  • Amazon MP3
  • eMusic

Movies & TV - Video Services

  • Amazon Video on Demand



Public Domain -- How does something get into the public domain?



Question from Students

  • Is LimeWire illegal? What about LimeWire Pro? (no, but neither allow downloading of copyrighted music)
  • Is making a mix CD for a friend illegal? -- Yes, unless you delete all the copies of that song that you own.
  • How many copies can someone have of an iTunes song? -- Many
  • Is it legal to "rip" a CD onto a computer, and put that music on a digial music player? -- Sometimes


Creative Commons License
This work by Aaron Wissner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Useful links:


Original Lesson Here: