Copyright Law, the Illegal Use of File Sharing Programs, University Policies and Procedures for Handling Violations
This document is intended to explain the policies and procedures Brown University follows in responding to notifications of alleged copyright infringements on the University network.
What is copyright?
Copyright is legal protection of intellectual property, in whatever medium, that is provided for by the laws of the United States to the owners of copyright. Types of works that are covered by copyright law include, but are not limited to, literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, pictorial, graphic, film and multi-media works. Many people understand that printed works such as books and magazine articles are covered by copyright laws but they are not aware that the protection extends to software, digital works, and unpublished works and it covers all forms of a work, including its digital transmission and subsequent use.
What is the current law concerning digital copyright?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), signed into law in 1998, recognizes that digital transmission of works adds complexity to the Copyright Law. The DMCA provides non-profit educational institutions with some protections if individual members of the community violate the law. However, for Brown University to maintain this protection, we must expeditiously take down or otherwise block access to infringing material whenever it is brought to our attention and whether or not the individual who is infringing has received notice.
DMCA infractions can result in serious consequences regarding activities of faculty, graduate students, or staff who are performing teaching or research functions if the university has received more than two notices of infringement against an individual within a three-year period.
Universities and individuals can be subject to the imposition of substantial damages for copyright infringement incidents relating to the use of University network services. In a civil action, the individual infringer may be liable for either actual damages or statutory damages of up to $30,000 (which may be increased to up to $150,000 if the court finds the infringement was willful). In addition, individual infringers may be subject to criminal prosecution. Criminal penalties include up to ten years imprisonment depending on the nature of the violation.
In addition, the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008 requires all U.S. colleges and universities deal with unauthorized file sharing on campus networks, imposing three general requirements on:
- An annual disclosure to students describing copyright law and campus policies related to violating copyright law;
- A plan to "effectively combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials" by users of its network, including "the use of one or more technology-based deterrents"; and
- A plan to "offer alternatives to illegal downloading".
More about Brown's compliance with the HEOA.
Why is this an important issue right now?
Copyright is an issue of particular seriousness because technology makes it easy to copy and transmit protected works over our networks. While Brown University encourages the free flow of ideas and provides resources such as the network to support this activity, we do so in a manner consistent with all applicable state and federal laws. Brown does not condone the illegal or inappropriate use of material that is subject to copyright protection and covered by state and federal laws.
What kinds of activities violate federal law?
Following are some examples of copyright infringement that may be found in a university setting:
- Downloading and sharing MP3 files of music, videos, and games without permission of the copyright owner
- Using corporate logos without permission
- Placing an electronic copy of a standardized test on a department's web site without permission of the copyright owner
- Enhancing a departmental web site with music that is downloaded or artwork that is scanned from a book, all without attribution or permission of the copyright owners
- Scanning a photograph that has been published and using it without permission or attribution
- Placing a number of full-text articles on a course web page that is not password protected and allowing the web page to be accessible to anyone who can access the Internet
- Downloading licensed software from non-authorized sites without the permission of the copyright or license holder
- Making a movie file or a large segment of a movie available on a web site without permission of the copyright owner
Specifically, is sharing and downloading mp3 files (or other types of music files) and videos illegal?
It is true that some copyright holders give official permission to download MP3 files and you might be able to find a limited number of videos that are not copyright protected. It is also true that some MP3 files are copyright free and some MP3 files can be legally obtained through subscription services. However, most MP3 and video files that are shared do not fall into any of these categories.
US Copyright Law allows you to create MP3s only for the songs to which you already have rights; that usually means you purchased the CD or downloaded a file via a subscription service. US Copyright Law allows you to make a copy of a purchased file only for your personal use. Personal use does not mean that you can give a copy to other people, or sell a copy of it.
How do you get caught violating copyright law?
Copyright holders represented by organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America, the Business Software Association, and the Motion Picture Association of America are applying serious efforts to stop the infringing downloads of copyrighted music, movies, and software. The companies or their agents locate possible copyright infringements by using automated systems.
Brown's network has a range of IP addresses and all computers connected to the Brown network have an IP address. When we get a violation notice, Brown locates the IP address and whenever possible, the user of that address. At that point, Brown is required to act on the notification.
These notices come to the Chief Information Security Officer in Computing and Information Services (CIS) from organizations that represent the artists and copyright holders. When Brown receives such a notice, staff in CIS look up the network IP address and set filters to restrict access to and from the computer associated with the IP address where the infringing material allegedly resides. At this point, the computer loses access to any Internet resources. Once the identity of the individual is known, that person is notified that they must remove the infringing material from their computer and inform the CIS Help Desk of its removal before Internet access will be reinstated.
First-time Notifications: If this is the first notification that the University has received on an individual, CIS must be notified that the infringing material has been removed from the computer before Internet access will be reinstated. A report about the violation of copyright will be sent by CIS to the Office of Student Life if you are a student; to your senior administrator and Human Resources, or to BioMed’s Human Resources as applicable, if you are staff; and to the department chair and the Dean of Faculty or Dean of Medicine & Biological Sciences if you are a faculty member or post doctoral fellow. A warning letter will be generated and the individual will be asked not to repeat the behavior that resulted in the complaint. A copy of that letter will be kept in the individual's file, and a copy will also go to Brown's DMCA Agent.
Second Notification Process for Students: If students are notified of copyright infringement a second time, their privileges to access the Internet from their personal computers, either through a wired port or through wireless, will generally be denied for at least four weeks after a hearing is scheduled with the Office of Student Life to determine what sanctions are appropriate. The Office of Student Life will be notified when second infringements have occurred and may take additional action appropriate to the university's disciplinary process. If the student tries to connect his/her computer to the Internet from a university port that is assigned to someone else, through an open port in a classroom or through the wireless service, further disciplinary action may take place.
Subsequent Notification Process for Students: If students are notified of copyright infringement a third time, their privileges to access the Internet from their personal computers may be denied for a semester after action is taken by the Office of Student Life to determine the severity of the infringement. Additional sanctions may be applied within the university's disciplinary process. If the student tries to connect to the Internet from a university port that is assigned to someone else, through an open port in a classroom, or through the wireless service, further disciplinary action may take place.
Second Notification Process for Faculty, Graduate Students and Staff: Faculty, graduate students, and staff who are engaged in teaching and research functions are expected to understand and act in accordance with applicable copyright laws. The University is obligated to exercise greater responsibility to address instances of repeated infringing activity by these individuals. There are potentially serious implications for both the individual and the university if the university receives more than two notices of infringement against an individual within a three-year period. For this reason, in an instance of a second notification of an individual's infringing activities, the University's Office of General Counsel is also notified of the infringement and a meeting with relevant administrators will be held to determine the action(s) to be taken.
Action Taken in Response to Subpoenas: Upon receipt of a valid subpoena, Brown University is obligated to turn over any electronic information regarding specific instances of infringing material that has been allegedly transmitted over its networks, in accordance with the standard procedures of the Office of the General Counsel.
How do you report a copyright infringement?
You can report alleged copyright infringements on Brown University systems or direct other copyright questions to Copyright@brown.edu.
Related Policies & Links:
» Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DCMA) (see Title II, § 512)
» Template for Letter of Warning to Staff for Copyright Infringement
» DCMA: U.S. Copyright Office Summary
» Copyright Office: Agent Designation for Service Providers
» Brown's Higher Education Opportunity Act Compliance Statement
» Brown's Copyright & Fair Use Policy
» Acceptable Use
» Copyright FAQ for: Undergraduates | Graduate Students
Related File-Sharing Documents:
» Tips on File Sharing with Peer-To-Peer (P2P) Applications (Brown)
» Peer-to-Peer (P2P) and File Sharing Overview (Cornell)
» FAQ on File-sharing and Copyright Law (Stanford)
» Electronic Frontier Foundation's advice on how to avoid being sued
Legal Music and Movies Online:
» Visit Legal Sources of Online Content for a comprehensive listing of options.
Questions or comments to: ITPolicy@brown.edu
Final Version: July 2, 2003
Updated to clarify second and subsequent violations for students: April 2, 2004
Updated to include subpoena notification section: August 11, 2005
Last Reviewed: July, 2015
Next Scheduled Review: July, 2016