Copyright Infringement Policy

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?
What is the current law concerning digital copyright?
Why is this an important issue right now?
What kinds of activities violate federal law?
Specifically, is sharing and downloading mp3 files (or other types of music files) and videos illegal?
What are legal alternatives?
How do you get caught violating copyright law?
If the IP address leads to my computer, what happens next?
How do you report a copyright infringement?
Related Policies & Links

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are covered by copyright laws but they are not aware that the protection extends to software, digital works, and unpublished works and it covers all forms of a work, including its digital transmission and subsequent use.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.

What are legal alternatives?

The Internet offers a variety of legal entertainment alternatives, whether downloads or streaming, free or fee-based, DRM or DRM-free, well-known artists or surprising discoveries. EDUCAUSE (a community of IT leaders and professionals committed to advancing higher education) has identified a long list of these, cataloged at Legal Sources of Online Content. See also Use P2P Filesharing Software Safely & Legally.

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.

If the IP address leads to my computer, what happens next?

These notices are sent to Computing and Information Services (CIS) from organizations that represent the artists and copyright holders. When Brown receives such a notice, CIS staff look up the network IP address to identify the individual. If it is possible to determine the identity, that person is notified that they must remove the infringing material from their computer and inform the CIS IT Service Center once this has been done.

First-time Notifications: If this is the first notification that the University has received on an individual and the infringing material has not been removed from the computer and CIS notified of this action, then a report about the violation of copyright will be sent by CIS to the Office of Student Conduct 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 will be generated and the individual will be asked not to repeat the behavior that resulted in the complaint. For staff, a copy of that letter will be kept in the individual's file, and a copy will also be sent to Brown's DMCA Agent.

Subsequent Notification Process for Students: If students are identified as having committed a second copyright infringement, the Office of Student Conduct will be notified and may take additional action appropriate to the University's disciplinary process. If students are notified of copyright infringement a third time, additional sanctions may be applied.

Subsequent 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.

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

Related Policies & Links:

» Brown's Copyright & Fair Use Policy | Using Copyright Works (resources for making legal and ethical use of copyrighted scholarly work)
» Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DCMA) (see Title II, § 512)
» Template for Letter of Warning to Staff for Copyright Infringement
» Understanding Copyright: A Deeper Dive ( course)
» Copyright on Campus (video)
» DCMA: U.S. Copyright Office Summary
» Copyright Office: Agent Designation for Service Providers
» Brown's Higher Education Opportunity Act Compliance Statement
» Acceptable Use
» Tips on File Sharing with Peer-To-Peer (P2P) Applications (Brown)

Legal Music and Movies Online:

» Visit Legal Sources of Online Content for a comprehensive listing of options.

Questions or comments to:

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 and Revised: September, 2016
Next Scheduled Review: September, 2017