Despite the popularity of the act, sharing electronic media, including books, movies and music, without the express consent of the copyright holder is illegal. Both California and Federal law have addressed the issue, but it remains one of the largest forms of piracy in the United States. To combat this problem, the federal government passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which makes it illegal to produce and disseminate technology that is intended to help people gain access to copyrighted works in digital form without payment. However, the act does not have any bearing on works that fall outside of copyright protection.
According to the University of California, Riverside, people who are convicted of illegally distributing or copying copyrighted media can face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, the copyright holder maintains the legal right to sue the person in civil court for any damages that they sustained due to the unauthorized dissemination of their work.
Peer-to-peer networks are some of the most common vehicles that people use to execute online piracy of media files. Their specific purpose is to allow people to share files without involving a separate server, so any files that are within the network are available to all other users at any given time. This means that anyone who participates in the network may be guilty of piracy of media files, even if they do not personally upload them to the network.
Some avenues are available online for people to gain access to copyrighted material without fear of breaking the law. These sites are licensed with the copyright holders and have permission to legally distribute their media. Users can usually gain access to a wide array of media for a regular participation fee.