Thursday, June 24, 2010

Avoiding Copyright Infringement

Cyber Security Tip ST05-004
Avoiding Copyright Infringement

Although copyright may seem to be a purely legal issue, using unauthorized
files could have security implications. To avoid prosecution and minimize
the risks to your computer, make sure you have permission to use any
copyrighted information, and only download authorized files.

How does copyright infringement apply to the internet?

Copyright infringement occurs when you use or distribute information without
permission from the person or organization that owns the legal rights to the
information. Including an image or cartoon on your website or in a document,
illegally downloading music, and pirating software are all common copyright
violations. While these activities may seem harmless, they could have
serious legal and security implications.

How do you know if you have permission to use something?

If you find something on a website that you would like to use (e.g., a
document, a chart, an application), search for information about permissions
to use, download, redistribute, or reproduce. Most websites have a "terms of
use" page that explains how you are allowed to use information from the site
(see US-CERT's terms of use for an example). You can often find a link to
this page in the site's contact information or privacy policy, or at the
bottom of the page that contains the information you are interested in

There may be restrictions based on the purpose, method, and audience. You
may also have to adhere to specific conditions about how much information
you are allowed to use or how the information is presented and attributed.
If you can't locate the terms of use, or if it seems unclear, contact the
individual or organization that holds the copyright to ask permission.

What consequences could you face?

* Prosecution - When you illegally download, reproduce, or distribute
information, you risk legal action. Penalties may range from warnings
and mandatory removal of all references to costly fines. Depending on
the severity of the crime, jail time may also be a possibility. To
offset their own court costs and the money they feel they lose because
of pirated software, vendors may increase the prices of their products.
* Infection - Attackers could take advantage of sites or networks that
offer unauthorized downloads (music, movies, software, etc.) by
including code into the files that would infect your computer once it
was installed (see Understanding Hidden Threats: Corrupted Software
Files and Understanding Hidden Threats: Rootkits and Botnets for more
information). Because you wouldn't know the source or identity of the
infection (or maybe that it was even there), you might not be able to
easily identify or remove it. Pirated software with hidden Trojan horses
is often advertised as discounted software in spam email messages (see
Why is Cyber Security a Problem? and Reducing Spam for more


* U.S. Copyright Office -
* Copyright on the Internet -

Author: Mindi McDowell

Produced 2005 by US-CERT, a government organization.

Note: This tip was previously published and is being
re-distributed to increase awareness.

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