File Sharing & Copyrighted Materials

File sharing is the practice of distributing or providing access to digitally stored information, such as computer programs, multimedia (audio, video) files, documents, or electronic books. File sharing is not always illegal, but many people share files in a way that infringes on the legal rights of copyright holders.

This page provides a reference for file sharing and copyright policies and resources at Iowa State University, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and your rights and responsibilities.

Iowa State Policies on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

Iowa State University's DMCA Statement

In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed into law the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which implements two 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties and addresses a number of significant copyright-related issues.

Title II of the DMCA establishes certain requirements for Online Service Providers (OSP) concerning copyright infringement violations including: 1) registration of an agent with the U.S. Copyright Office; 2) development and posting of updated copyright policies; 3) adoption of "notice and takedown" procedures for alleged copyright infringing materials; and 4) accommodation and non-interference with standard technical measures utilized by copyright owners to identify and protect their works. Title II, Section 512 addresses the issue of erroneous notifications from copyright holders by establishing certain safeguards. Individuals are given the opportunity to respond to a copyright infringement notice and takedown by filing a counter notification. The DMCA specifies that all notices of copyright infringement from copyright holders be in writing and be in the proper form of a DMCA notice.

Under DMCA, Iowa State University is considered an OSP for its students, faculty and staff. DMCA requires the University to expeditiously respond to complaints it receives of copyright infringements. When notified, under penalty of perjury, by a copyright owner of infringing materials on a computer attached to the university network, Iowa State takes immediate action to notify the offender and remove the infringing material.

Action taken by the University to remedy and/or discipline an individual for a copyright violation does not preclude the copyright holder and/or the authorities from seeking civil legal remedies and/or criminal prosecution for copyright infringement. Federal law specifies that injunctions and orders to impound infringing materials may be entered by federal courts. Violators are subject to civil liability for litigation costs and attorney fees. Violators are also subject to liability for either the profits they earned from the infringement plus the actual damages suffered by the copyright owner, or statutory damages of $750 to $30,000 for each work infringed. Where the court finds that the infringement was willful, civil statutory damages may be increased to up to $150,000. Under certain circumstances, violators can also face criminal penalties up to $2,500, and/or imprisonment for up to 10 years (17 U.S.C. 501-511; 18 U.S.C. 2319). Additionally, anyone who helps or makes it possible for another person to infringe upon a copyright may also be held liable under a legal doctrine known as "contributory infringement (Sony Corp. v. Universal Studios, 464 U.S. 417, 435, 104 S.Ct. 774, 785, 78 L.Ed.2d 574 (1984))".

By far the greatest cause of copyright infringements is the use of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing services for sharing music and movies. Although the use of P2P file sharing is not illegal in and of itself, using it to share copyright protected files is, unless the person doing the sharing has express permission from the copyright owner. Generally, the P2P file sharing programs install the software and automatically share downloaded files with other Internet users. Copyright owners and their agents use automated methods to actively scan the Internet to detect computers that are illegally sharing copyrighted files.

A statutory limitation to the Copyright Act of importance to nonprofit educational institutions is Section 107, the doctrine of "fair use". Under this doctrine, limited use of copyrighted material is allowed without prior permission of the copyright owner if certain criteria are met. Section 107 lists purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered "fair," and presents factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair.

Iowa State has reviewed legal alternatives for downloading or otherwise acquiring copyrighted material and has determined that Educause offers the best legal alternatives.

Pursuant to the requirements of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA), Iowa State monitors the efficacy of its plans to combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials on its network on an annual basis. Based on this analysis, Iowa State may modify this plan to improve effectiveness.

Additional Policies

Legal Alternatives for Downloading Digital Content

Educause lists legal downloading and streaming sites. Some are free, while others offer a free trial period, a modest subscription rate, or a charge per song, CD, or movie. Examples include Apple iTunes, Amazon MP3, Hulu, Netflix, and media outlets (like NBC or Fox).

The Risks of File Sharing and Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Networks

Illegal use of copyrighted files and information can result in disciplinary action and loss of access to the campus network, and civil or criminal liability for violation of copyright law, including expensive court costs and fines. File sharing and P2P may open your computer to serious security risks, because downloaded files can contain spyware, Trojans, and viruses that can spread to other computers at Iowa State and open your information to identity theft via password and information recording.

When you are using a P2P network, every other user around the world has the ability to access your hard drive. Many people are surprised to learn they can be held responsible even if they didn't intend to distribute files. When you registered as a P2P software user, you probably agreed to let the network use your computer as a source of music, movie, and other files. This makes you a potential illegal distributor, whether you meant to be or not.

What happens to students who have uploaded or downloaded illegally?

When Iowa State receives a complaint from a copyright holder, the university will determine the registered user of the machine connected to the identified IP address at the time of the incident. If that user is a student, the identification information and the complaint are sent to Judicial Affairs in the Dean of Students Office, which will work with the student to resolve the issue. Repeated offenses may result in disciplinary action and loss of access to the campus network and Internet.

Be Aware You are Uploading (BAYU) is an automated Iowa State e-mail service that notifies campus network users when BAYU detects traffic from a computer that indicates uploading is taking place. This is an educational rather than enforcement tool to let users know about uploading risks and policies.