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Copyright Infringement, Peer-to-Peer File Sharing, and Intellectual Property Policy

Copyright Infringement

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.

Copyright infringement by college and university students has been so widespread that there are specific provisions in federal legislation to deal with this issue. Copyright rules for education and academia are not stringent. However, they serve as a guideline regarding current practices in higher education regarding intellectual property. Students are personally responsible for complying with copyright law.

It is important students review the copyright rules found on the U. S. Copyright Office website http://www.copyright.gov and understand the following terms:

  • Copyright laws and regulations
  • Public Domain (for updated information about Public Domain materials, consult the U. S. Copyright Office website)
  • Fair Use: Fair Use is not clearly defined and is often is only defined in individually in legal cases. Judges consider these four factors:
    1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
    2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
    3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
    4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
ACTIONS TAKEN

If Meridian is informed of a suspected copyright infringement, the following steps will be taken:

  1. The student’s access to the network will be blocked.
  2. The student will be notified that you are in violation.
  3. The Academic Records Office will be notified of the violation.
  4. The student must call or email the Academic Records Office to set up an appointment.
  5. Before meeting with a member of the Student Development Committee, the student must:
    • Remove the copyrighted material from the computer.
    • Remove any peer-to-peer file sharing software.
    • Read DMCA Act and Policy.

Once these tasks are completed, the student must meet with a member of the Student Development Committee in-person to discuss the violation and the student’s understanding of the DMCA policies. After the Student Development Committee is satisfied that the student is in compliance with the policies, they will ask IT Services to restore the student’s access to the network.

Peer-to-Peer File Sharing

The illegal distribution of copyrighted music, movies, television shows, text files, and software is a pervasive problem. The most problematic of copyright infringement are peer-to-peer file sharing systems. Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing applications are used to connect a computer directly to other computers in order to transfer files between the systems. While P2P technologies have many legitimate uses, the primary use of P2P technology has been to copy commercial music and video files, without the copyright holder's permission, for personal enjoyment. Unauthorized file sharing violates the Copyright Law.

THE PENALTIES

Students cannot share any file for which they do not have distribution rights. The use of file sharing programs for copyright protected material can have major consequences for students, including civil and criminal penalties. See Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws below for a more detailed explanation. For example, if a song was sent to ten people, the sender may face statutory damages of up to $1,500,000. In addition to civil liability, there is potential criminal liability in copyright cases, with penalties depending on the number and value of products exchanged. While some lawsuits brought by copyright owners against students can settle for much less, they still have involved settlement amounts of as much as $17,000, plus attorney fees.

Unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, whether downloading or sharing out, using the Meridian’s network is a violation of Meridian’s Internet Use Policy. It is also a violation of US civil and criminal law under the federal Copyright Act. If Meridian receives an official notice of copyright infringement under the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), we are obligated as a service provider, and as a university under the terms of the Higher Education Opportunities Act, to take action.

ALTERNATIVES TO ILLEGAL FILE SHARING

Below are services that grant legal and affordable access to copyrighted material.

  • Last.fm is an Internet radio and music community website, which includes a music recommendation system that learns what kind of music listeners may like. www.last.fm
  • Pandora is an Internet radio and music recommendation service created by the Music Genome Project that allows listeners to search for a song or artist and plays similar music. www.pandora.com
  • Hulu is a website for streaming free, high-quality video of TV shows, movies, and video clips. This service offers content from NBC, Fox, Comedy Central, PBS, USA Network, Bravo, Fuel TV, FX, Sci- Fi, Style, Sundance, G4, and Oxygen… and the selection is growing! www.hulu.com
  • SHOUTcast is a collection of online radio stations. www.shoutcast.com
  • Live365 is an Internet radio network that allows users to create their own radio stations and listen to other curated stations. www.live365.com
  • The Recording Industry Association of America is the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry. Visit this site to learn where to get music online without breaking the law. www.riaa.com

Intellectual Property Policy

Intellectual Property is defined as all ideas, information, and knowledge that have been created by human beings. Like physical property, intellectual property is protected by law. Students’ written work, for example, is protected by intellectual property rights; as such, faculty may not duplicate or distribute students’ written work without the student’s permission. Similarly, in-person and online course content, including lecture notes, spoken recordings, lectures, directions for online posts, assignments, and learning activities are also protected from unauthorized use, as is content in all Meridian publications such as handbooks. Dissertations cannot receive final approval or be published if they violate these standards. (See Academic Integrity policy as well)

Students may not distribute or sell lecture notes, directions for posts, assignments, and/or learning activities, or other content from any Meridian course (in-person or online) or publication. Additionally, students must always give appropriate and accurate attribution to Meridian faculty and other theorists in their written work.

It is important the students understand the following terms:

  • Copyright laws and regulations (http://www.copyright.gov).
  • Public Domain: For updated information about Public Domain materials, consult the U. S. Copyright Office (http://www.copyright.gov).
  • Fair Use: Fair Use is not clearly defined and often is only defined individually in legal cases. The four factors judges consider are:
    • The purpose and character of your use
    • The nature of the copyrighted work
    • The amount and substantiality of the portion taken
    • The effect of the use upon the potential market

(Source: Stanford Libraries and Academic Information Resources page, “Measuring Fair Use: The Four Factors” at http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/chapter9/9-b.html#3)

CIVIL AND CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR VIOLATION OF FEDERAL COPYRIGHT LAWS

Failure to comply with copyright and intellectual property laws can result in a variety of consequences. In addition to cease-and-desist letters or lawsuits from copyright holders or companies, students may be subject to federal penalties such as injunctions, federally assessed damages and profits, seizures, forfeitures, recovery of legal costs, and criminal prosecution. 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 attorney's’ fees. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504, 505. 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. For more information, please see the Website of the U.S. Copyright Office at: www.copyright.gov.

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