Legal Risk: Computer File Swapping

The media spotlight is on students at colleges and universities illegally downloading copyrighted music files, using college and university computers. The music recording industry is going after colleges and universities with legal actions, hoping to stem the growing tide of illegal downloading of music files.

But employers are at risk, also.

To try to stem illegal downloading, the Recording Industry Association of America sent letters to CEOs at about 300 companies, warning them that some of their employees were using the company computers to illegally swap music files. The letters stated: “… federal copyright law imposes stiff penalties for acts of infringement. For example, copyright owners can collect statutory damages of up to $150,000 per copyrighted work infringed as well as legal costs and attorneys’ fees.”

Employee use of the employer’s computer to download copyrighted music from the Web not only is illegal (in most instances), it’s also a big waste of time.

But this isn’t the greatest danger to the employer. Some employees are using the boss’s computer to access pornography websites, especially child pornography sites, and downloading pornographic images to the employer’s computer system.

Also, when employees download large music and photo files (usually pornographic files) from the web and store them on the employer’s computer system, these personal files are taking up tremendous amounts of space on the employer’s system. So not only are the employees wasting the employer’s time, they’re wasting the employer’s computer storage space. This monopolizing of computer space also is occurring when employees connect to radio websites and listen to music and radio broadcasts on their computers while working.

What to do:

  1. Adopt and enforce a policy prohibiting employees from downloading and copying any copyrighted material from the web, unless they receive permission to do so from the copyright holder.
  2. Adopt, and enforce a policy prohibiting employees from visiting websites for their personal use during their work time.
  3. Install a program on your computer system which monitors employee computer and web activity, and prohibits employees from visiting prohibited websites. An employer using this type of software, for example, can block access to file-sharing, recreational, shopping, gambling, games, and pornographic sites.
  4. Inform all employees they have no right to privacy in their use of the employer’s computer system and their use of the computer system is subject to monitoring. Then monitor employee use of your computer system.
  5. If an employee has installed file-swapping software, delete the software from your system. Tell the employee to stop swapping files during work time, using the employer’s computers.

Be sure whatever policy you set, you enforce it uniformly and consistently, to avoid claims of unfair treatment.

© 2017