DMCA Copyright Compliance / Peer-to-Peer File Sharing

Statement and Purpose

Copyright law protects the owners and creators of intellectual property from having their works stolen, copied, or distributed without permission. File sharing software that copies and distributes songs, movies, videos, games, and software applications without the permission of the owner can create both a criminal and civil liability for the user of the computer performing those actions. Content owners, such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) use technological means to track the file sharing of their intellectual property on the Internet.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) requires the University to identify copyright violations originating on its network , to inform the offender, and to report the offender to the copyright holder if subpoenaed.

The University encourages the legal and authorized sharing of information and the free expression of ideas. SPU also, however, recognizes and respects intellectual property rights. Willfully taking, copying, or distributing other people’s property without their permission or authorization is stealing and violates the University’s standards for conduct and morale principles. There is an obligation on the part of all those who use these campus facilities to respect the intellectual and access-rights of others who own or use the resources. See the University's Computer Acceptable Use for more information.

This policy was created to outline the issues and obligations on all campus content consumers, and describe the procedures for addressing incidents. Under federal rules and regulations, the University is obligated to educate, notify and inform all campus constituents of our policies regarding copyright infringement, P2P files sharing abuses, and the ramifications for violations.

Table of Contents

Version: 1.1

Effective Date: February 5, 2009
Last Updated:
November 15, 2016

Responsible Office:
Computer & Information Systems
Responsible Executive:
AVP for Information Technology / CIO

Unauthorized Distribution of Copyrighted Material

  • Annual disclosure
    At the start of each academic year the university will notify students about their responsibilities and obligations related to the legal and appropriate use of computing and network resources. This message will also include information about where students can read more about institutional policies. Specific mention will be made regarding copyright violations and the use of peer-to- peer file sharing applications. This is in compliance with the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-315) Section 488.
  • Education and awareness
    Education and awareness about copyright is an ongoing activity that takes places across many areas of the campus including in many academic settings, student life and residence life settings, and by CIS. Policies regarding copyright and P2P files sharing are also linked to Student Handbooks, Staff Handbooks and Faculty Handbooks.
  • Policies and sanctions
    The university takes complaints about copyright violations seriously. We have a vigorous program to respond to specific incident and violations.
  • Technology based deterrents
    The university employs a traffic-limiting device and bandwidth caps to restrict applications that are often used for illegal file sharing.
  • Legal Alternatives
    The University has reviewed several services that make music and movies available to on-campus computer users. As of August 2010, we have not elected to offer any of these as a legal alternative to the sharing that takes place. However, we are continuing to evaluate these services and may elect to do so at some point in the future. Educause (a higher education professional association) does maintain an extensive list of sources for legal content at:

Incident/Violation Notification and Response (First Offense)

There are several ways that the University may become aware of a file sharing violation. The most common method is that we receive a take-down notice from an agent of the court or of the content owners informing us of a potential violation. The source is often identified by the network IP address of the computer sharing the material on a specific date and time. Such violations are often referred to as "copyright infringement” notices as set forth under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Copyright infringement is a civil matter. Fines can begin at $750 per infringement and can be as high as $150,000 per infringement; willful violations may result in criminal prosecution and penalties. As the DMCA agent for SPU, CIS has a legal obligation to notify the infringing party (the registered owner of the computer device associated with the violation) and request removal of the copyrighted material in question.

  • Take Down Notice
    CIS reviews the infringement complaint and begins an investigation to identify the computer/IP address/named user/location of the infringement. The CIS DMCA Agent then issues a formal infringement notice detailing pertinent information of the complaint, and forwards this notice via SPU email to the offending individual. The person involved is given 2 business days to comply with the take-down notice. Compliance involves: (1) deleting the infringing work from any and all computers; (2) uninstalling the torrent P2P software used in illegally obtaining and/or distributing the copyright material; and (3) responding in writing (email) back to the DMCA agent that the take-down notice has been received and compliance steps followed.
    • Once compliance to the take-down notice is obtained, CIS' obligation to enforce the infringement notice is considered closed. This may also be sufficient for any further action by the content owner or its agent who issued the DMCA notice, however, that decision rests solely with them.
    • If compliance is not attained, the matter is escalated as described in the Incident Non-Compliance or Repeat Offense clause explained below.
  • Preserve Logs and Evidence
    In the course of issuing the take-down notice CIS takes action to preserve the logs associated with the notification. This information is stored for approximately 30 days and is subject to evidentiary rules of disclosure in the event that the content owner or their enforcement agent pursues the infringement case further. CIS will only release such information when directed to do so by University Counsel in response to a formal court issued subpoena.
  • Confirms Complaint
    CIS may also scan or review the material in question to determine if it’s likely that a violation/infringement has taken place.
  • Techniques to Monitor and Identify Infringing Activities
    The University uses network-based traffic shaping to monitor, control and limit the use of many P2P file sharing applications. These techniques severely reduce the amount of bandwidth consumption allowed by the P2P tools. In addition, we have rules and filters in place on our border firewalls that prevent certain applications that may be running on student owned computers from being accessible outside of campus. While these deterrents are not perfect or complete, they do prevent a significant portion of unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material from campus computers.

Incident/Violation Response (Non-Compliance or Repeat Offense)

In the first stage of copyright infringement response, a simple take-down notice is forwarded to the offending party (noted above) along with required steps for remediation/compliance. In the event that the offender fails to comply with the initial take-down notice, or if a repeat offense occurs after a previous incident was resolved, copyright infringement cases (along with illegal P2P file sharing and other network abuse infractions) are escalated to be handled via formal campus disciplinary process. Depending on the ownership of the computer in question, the incident will be handled by the following departments:

  • Student
    If a student computer is identified, the Office of Student Life is notified and the student disciplinary process is initiated.
  • Staff
    If a staff member is identified, the Office of Human Resources is notified.
  • Faculty
    If a faculty member is identified, the Office of Academic Affairs is notified.
  • Legal Counsel
    There are many complex laws involved in the infringement of copyright, the actions on behalf of the content owners, the roles and responsibilities of network providers (such as the University), and the rights and responsibilities of individuals accused of violation. University legal counsel may often become involved in these issues. Contact with the Office of Senior Vice President for Planning and Administration should be made if it appears that legal issues need to be reviewed or addressed.
  • Forwarding Notices and Settlement Letters
    As long as they meet all legal elements, the University will forward DMCA notices, take- down notices, and settlement letters to the individual if they can be properly identified. How that individual responds to the complaint will be up to them.
  • Ramifications of policy violation
    Disciplinary actions for policy violations are intended to be redemptive and educational in the context of the University’s mission. These actions can range from remedial education programs, formal statements that go on permanent record and community service. Extreme cases may result in fines, penalties, loss of network privileges, suspension, expulsion, and termination of employment.

Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright Infringement

  • What happens if it wasn’t me?
    You should respond to the takedown notice as soon as possible and explain your position. There can be errors in the identification/network tracking of computer devices that may need additional review and devices may have transferred ownership since the time of registration. However, the registered owner of the computer is responsible for all actions that take place on the device.
  • I never shared out copyrighted material from my computer. How did this happen?
    Many file sharing programs automatically index your computer hard drive and make all of your media or music files available to others. You, as the registered owner of the computer are responsible for all actions that take place on the device.
  • What is an “Early Settlement Letter”?
    Some copyright owners include a financial settlement offer to the infringing user as part of the DMCA takedown request.  By policy, CIS does not include “early settlement letters” in our notification to individual users because that is not required by the DMCA process.
  • Does SPU provide the identity of a user to the copyright owner as part of the DMCA takedown notice? No, SPU does not report the name of the alleged offender to the copyright owner without a subpoena requiring such identification. Provided the user quickly responds and removes the infringing material it is rare that further legal action from the content owner will take place.

Internal File Sharing

In addition to the legal and financial risks that a computer user may face by using P2P software applications to infringe copyright with others computer users across the Internet, there is also willful abuse that takes place between individuals within the confines of the campus network. This is also copyright infringement, even if the RIAA and MPAA can’t monitor or identify it.

All campus computer users are encouraged to behave legally in the use of copyrighted materials.

Glossary of Terms

Copyright Act

The United States copyright law is written to protect the intellectual works of content creators. The law grants exclusive rights to creators of original works for a set period of time. There are volume’s written on the role and formulation of copyright law, but for the purposes of this policy, if a piece of content (a song, a recording, a book, a movie, etc…) is copyrighted, it falls under the protection of this law. There are several exclusions for the use of copyright works in teaching, learning, research, fair use, library materials, etc… but for the most part this policy deals with the willful duplication and distribution of copyright materials without the owner’s permission, in violation of copyright law.

Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA)

HEOA was signed into law in 2008. Specific sections are intended to stem unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material. The Department of Education requires the following provisions for compliance;

  1. Provide an annual disclosure to students informing them of federal copyright laws and University policies related to violations.
  2. Develop and implement a plan to combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials by users of the campus network.
  3. Periodically review and, to the extent practical, offer legal alternatives for acquiring copyrighted material.
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

The DMCA criminalizes certain actions used to violate copyright in the creation, distribution, dissemination, of protected materials. Most of the copyright enforcement over the past several years has been established under the provisions of the DMCA.

Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)The RIAA and MPAA are trade groups that serve as agents for the content owned by their members. Many of the largest recording and movie companies are members of these associations. More recently these trade groups have taken on the duties to monitor and enforce the distribution, licensing, and royalties of the content owned by their members.
Peer-to-Peer (P2P) applicationsSoftware that is created to distribute and share digital material is generally referred to as P2P tools. While often used to bypass and circumvent copyright law, there are legitimate uses of P2P software as well. Over time, many of these software products have come under the attention of the various content owners and have either been removed from the marketplace, or in some cases the subject of lawsuits.
Take-down-notices, settlement letters, preservation letters, subpoenasThe courts and various content owners have taken many routes to reduce the illegal copying and distribution of copyright materials. A “take-down-notice” is the first communication that a content owner believes that their materials are being used in an illegal manner. The violator is notified to remove the offending content. Settlement letters have  been used by the various trade groups to provide an opportunity to resolve a DMCA violation by the infringer paying a set amount to settle the complaint. Often a settlement letter to an individual is accompanied by a preservation letter to the university to collect evidence in network logs that would substantiate a legal claim of violation. The content owners may also pursue a violation through the courts and issue a subpoena to collect evidence of a violation.
Network traffic shapingThe campus network is a finite resource that is expensive to create and operate, and is shared among all users. In the late 1990’s the network was being heavily used to transmit digital music and movies with P2P software applications. This use was saturating the network so heavily, that other academic, instructional, and business use could not be performed. A network appliance to monitor, control, and limit the use of the campus network by certain software applications was put in place to keep the campus network operational for core academic and instructional activities.
Acceptable Use Policy (AUP)The AUP describes a wide range of activities that our performed on campus computer and network resources. It points to the priorities of use that govern how shared resources can be maintained in a secure and effective manner.

Related Policies and Procedures