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Copyright Compliance: Copyright Infringement-Policies and Sanctions

Information about Copyright and Fair Use as it applies to the educational setting.

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Legal Protection of Copyrighted Works

United States Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S. Code) provides authors of original literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works the ability to control how their work is used by others. Section 106 of the copyright law gives the author exclusive right to:

  • reproduce the copyrighted work,
  • prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work,
  • distribute copies of the copyrighted work by sale or loan,
  • perform or display the copyrighted work publicly,
  • perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of these exclusive rights granted to the author. Under the current law, copyright protection is automatic at the moment the work is "fixed" in a "tangible medium" - no registration or copyright notice is required. The author may transfer ownership of copyright to another party such as a publisher, or choose to grant a license (give permission) to another to exercise one or more of these rights. For more information about copyright see Copyright Basics or the U.S. Copyright Office's FAQ page at

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Peer-to-Peer File Sharing

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing is a convenient way for people to share files directly between computers using an online service. Normally, for a file to be available for download it would first need to be uploaded onto a web server, a computer designed specifically to "serve" content on the Web. The file sits on the server available for download at any time to anyone who is allowed to access it. P2P networking software bypasses the need to upload a file to a web server by allowing a user to search through certain files that the other users' have on their computers and download them directly from the other users' computers. When a file is shared through P2P, the computer that the file comes from is uploading the file at the same time the computer receiving the file is downloading the file.

File sharing through a P2P network is not illegal so long as the person responsible for uploading the file has the legal right to distribute that file. However, since authors have the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute copies of their own work, sharing copyrighted music, videos, movies, articles, ebooks, or images without an author's permission is an infringement of the author's copyright.

P2P networking and file sharing carries certain risks for you and your computer. If you have P2P software installed on your computer and do not have it configured properly you could be exposing parts of your hard drive to the P2P network that you did not intend to be visible. This could result in a whole series of problems ranging from unknowingly uploading copyrighted material to having your identity stolen.

Learn more about P2P and the risks:

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Isothermal Community College Polices Regarding Copyright and Peer-to-peer File Trafficking

According to the college's Computer Resources/Internet policy, Policy No: 602-03-01AP, unacceptable uses of the college's computer resources includes:

Violating copyright laws and/or fair use provisions through 1) illegal peer-to-peer file trafficking, i.e., by downloading or uploading pirated or illegal material, including but not limited to software and music files; 2) reproducing or disseminating Internet materials, except as permitted by law or by written agreement with the owner of the copyright

The policy also makes reference to disciplinary procedures for violations:

Violations of College Computer Policies and Guidelines

Each individual is ultimately responsible for his/her own actions. Failure to exercise responsible, ethical behavior will result in disciplinary action as appropriate. Disciplinary action may include reprimand or denial of access. In severe cases, 1) students may be sanctioned according to procedures described in the College Catalog and Student Handbook; 2) other users may be barred permanently from using College computers and network access.

Certain activities violate Federal and/or NC State laws governing use of computer systems, and may be classified as misdemeanors or felonies. Those convicted could face fines and/or imprisonment.

The complete version of the "Computer Resources, Internet, and Network Use Policy" along with the "Wireless Internet Access Guidelines" and "Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Judicial Procedures," which includes Disciplinary Procedures and Sanctions may be found in the Isothermal Community College College Catalog and Student Handbook.

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Summary of Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws

"Copyright infringement" is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under section 106 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code). These rights include the right to reproduce or distribute a copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority constitutes an infringement.

Penalties for copyright infringement include civil and criminal penalties. In general, anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or "statutory" damages affixed at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed. For "willful" infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed. A court can, in its discretion, also assess costs and attorneys' fees. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Chapter 5.

Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense. See Criminal Resource Manual, 1852. Copyright Infringement -- Penalties -- 17 U.S.C. 506(a) And 18 U.S.C 2319.

For more information, please see the Web site of the U.S. Copyright Office at, especially their FAQ's at

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Legal Alternatives to Illegal Downloading

The Higher Education Opportunity Act requires all colleges and universities to offer legal alternatives to unauthorized downloading. EDUCAUSE maintains a list of Legal Sources of Online Content to fulfill this purpose. No endorsement or evaluation of any of the linked resources, on the part of EDUCAUSE or Isothermal Community College, is intended.

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This document is not legal advice. It is intended to provide general information regarding copyright and is provided on an "as-is, as available, and with all faults" basis. Consult a qualified attorney for proper legal advice when necessary. Comments, questions, or corrections should be submitted to Charles P. Wiggins, Director of Library Services.

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