Copyright Policy and Law
University Counsel's Office
Subject to Change Without Notice
The unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including through peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject a student to criminal and civil penalties. The laws that govern copyright are not specific to any one technology. Students can violate the rights of a copyright holder using many different types of technology. Both uploading and downloading of files can pose a violation of the copyright law. Students should be cautious when obtaining any copyrighted material. As a rule of thumb, before a student receives anything for free, they should research whether that source provides material licensed by the copyright owner. A group called EDUCAUSE has a list of legal file sharing alternatives at http://www.educause.edu/legalcontent.
Individuals who violate copyright law by illegally uploading and downloading copyrighted files may be subject to civil penalties of between $750 and $150,000 per song. These penalties are established by federal law. In the past, pre-litigation settlements offered by copyright owners have been in the $3,000 to $4,000 and up range while juries in some jurisdictions have issued verdicts of hundreds of thousands and up. In addition, a court may, in its discretion, grant the copyright owner reasonable attorney fees. Although criminal prosecution of students for file sharing is extremely rare, federal law lays out criminal penalties for intentional copyright infringement which can include fines and jail time. In addition to potentially violating the law, unauthorized distribution or receipt of copyrighted material is a violation of University Business Policies and Procedures Manual 2500. That policy states that: “Users shall respect all copyrights including software copyrights…Use of University computing services in violation of applicable laws or University policy may result in sanctions, including withdrawal of use privilege; disciplinary action, up to and including, expulsion from the University or discharge from a position; and legal prosecution under applicable federal and/or state law.”