Peer-to-Peer File Sharing and Copyright Law

Learner Description: This page was created for educators, students, and members of the general population who wish to understand U.S. copyright law with respect to peer-to-peer file sharing networks and services.

Peer-to-peer file-sharing networks and related technologies are the future of modern business and education. In short, these technologies, for better or worse, have always been and will continue to be closely related to copyright law. In fact, the nature of digital file-sharing technology is intrinsically linked to copyright law. In other words, the majority of files shared within file-sharing technology are copyrighted material. Thus, it is important to have guidelines when using or developing peer-to-peer file-sharing systems.

To further understand peer-to-peer file-sharing services, the video on this page provides a general overview of how peer-to-peer file-sharing services work, and the dangers they can cause if misused. In short, it gives an individual an understanding of the benefits and potential consequences in using file-sharing technology. Therefore, it is extremely important for individuals to learn how file-sharing technology and copyright law are intertwined. In other words, it is important that individuals use specific guidelines to avoid the consequences of accidental infringement.

According to Fred Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (2003), these guidelines will help avoid infringement when using peer-to-peer services:

Peer-to-Peer File-Sharing Scavenger Hunt Activity

Disclaimer: This activity is only intended for educational purposes. It is not to be considered legal advice.

This activity has been created to aid individuals in understanding how to properly use peer-to-peer file sharing services. Additionally, it was created to help individuals avoid the consequences of unintentionally misusing peer-to-peer file-sharing services with respect to copyright law.

Instructions: Please answer each question below using the linked website. Each question’s answer can be found by performing a scavenger hunt through the information on the linked website. In the end, please answer all the questions and then check your answers through the answer key at the bottom of this web page.

Please download the scavenger hunt questions to fill in your answers.
[Download Worksheet Document]

Scavenger Hunt: Peer-to-Peer File Sharing and Copyright Law

Electronic Frontier Foundation's Primer for Peer-to-Peer File Sharing and Copyright Law -

Answer the following questions:

  1. What results from the transmission of a file from one individual to another?
  2. What are the individuals called who have directly violated one or more of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights?
  3. What is a vicarious infringer?
  4. What liability is contributory infringement similar too? Please explain.
  5. What binary choice has copyright law put on peer-to-peer developers?
  6. For online service providers, what are the four “safe harbors” for copyright liability Congress enacted in 1998?
  7. What is material contribution?
  8. True or False: Copyright law sometimes reaches beyond the direct infringer to those who were only indirectly involved.
  9. Should developers of peer-to-peer file-sharing technology monitor users? Please explain.
  10. True or False: If there is no direct infringement, there can be no indirect liability.

Reference: Lohmann, F.(2003). Peer-to-peer file sharing and copyright law: A primer for developers. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved October 3, 2011, from

[Answer Key] Check your answers when you are finished with the scavenger hunt.