Sharing Music and Movies

Your Responsibilities at Grinnell College with Respect to Copyright Law

This document provides an overview of Grinnell College's policies and procedures governing music and movie sharing and how we deal with alleged violations. Actions against violators of copyright by many organizations, including the Recording Industry Artists Association (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), have made it imperative that everyone understand the risks of sharing music and movies with others.

Key Points

  • Downloading music may be hazardous to your computer. Files can contain spyware or viruses.
  • Illegal music and film downloads can result in legal action against you.
  • It can happen here! The College routinely receives infringement notices involving student computers.
  • There are legal alternatives for obtaining music and movies.

Copyright Law

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material regardless of the format of that material. This includes downloading of copyrighted material such as songs and movies. 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 law is complicated and its interpretation is sometimes controversial. In simple terms, downloading a commercial song or movie you didn't pay for onto your computer, or uploading one that you did pay for to a network that allows other people to access it, is illegal unless the copyright owner explicitly allows this activity.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA)

The RIAA and the MPAA are regularly scanning the Internet looking for illegal file sharing of copyrighted material. If they detect such activity they file a complaint using the DMCA. The DMCA specifies procedures that Grinnell College must follow when notified of a copyright violation by an individual using our network. If the copyright holder contacts Grinnell College (called an infringement notice) about a violation we will contact the violator – if we can determine who it is – and require removal of the offending material from his/her/zir computer within 24 hours. If the material is not removed, the person's computer will be restricted from accessing the Internet. The individual has the right to claim that the material is not protected by copyright and then a legal process begins. To date, every notice we have received has resulted in the offending material being removed. You should familiarize yourself with the college’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act procedures by visiting the DMCA Policy.  

Peer-to-peer Programs (P2P)

P2P programs have been developed to allow people to share information in digital formats across the Internet. In particular, programs like BitTorrent, Limewire, Ares, KaZaA, Gnutella, Morpheus, and AudioGalaxy are commonly used to share music and movies without regard to the restrictions placed on that material by the copyright owners. Most commercially produced music and movies are copyrighted and cannot be freely shared. This is the law. You should also know that file sharing programs often contain malware, which can compromise and degrade the functioning of your computer. Grinnell College does not restrict or examine the information content that is being transmitted over the network (e.g. the music itself). Members of our community must follow college-defined policies for appropriate use of technology resources. You should familiarize yourself with these policies by reviewing Grinnell College ResNet Guidelines and Policies.  

Recent Legal Actions

The RIAA and other organizations are taking actions to stop illegal sharing of copyrighted material. These actions take three forms: infringement notices (described above), settlement letters that suggest a subpoena is imminent (and suggesting that the violator should contact the RIAA to avoid a subpoena), and finally a subpoena. If we can determine who the violator is, in the first two cases Grinnell College notifies the violator and passes along any information we have received.

If Grinnell College receives a valid subpoena, we are required to provide the name of the violator who is using our network, if we can determine who it is. Subpoenas can lead to lawsuits, substantial financial penalties and perhaps jail time.

The consequences of illegally sharing copyrighted material over the Internet are serious. If you are found to be infringing, even if unwittingly, you can be subject to statutory damages and possible jail time. 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, 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.

Most music and movie sharing violates the law that we are bound to uphold. If you distribute copyrighted music and videos you are putting yourself at risk of losing computing privileges, being charged by the Grinnell College Joint Board, and facing prosecution under civil and criminal laws. Grinnell College policies for appropriate use of copyrighted materials and associated disciplinary procedures for non-compliance are described in the following policy documents.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Grinnell College Copyright Policy

ResNet Guidelines and Policies

Frequently Asked Questions

Q As long as I keep my number of downloads moderate, am I still at risk of legal action?

A Yes

Q Is peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing illegal?

A No, just the sharing of copyrighted material.

Q Is it legal to burn a CD or DVD?

A Yes, as long as you purchased the material and any copies are for your personal use only – but you can't share those copies with other people or keep the copies when you sell or give away the CD or DVD.

Q Is it copyright infringement to sell a CD to someone else?

A No, copyright law permits lending, destroying, and selling legally purchased copyrighted material as long as you don't keep a copy.

Q Are people really being prosecuted for illegal downloads?

A Absolutely. In the past thousands of students at colleges and universities were prosecuted for illegal downloads.

Q If Grinnell College receives a subpoena how will they know it was me?

A Grinnell keeps logs of network activity for the purposes correcting network problems. These logs are not routinely examined but can often identify a person performing illegal downloading if we receive a subpoena.

Q Does peer-to-peer (P2P) music sharing fall under "fair use"?

A Almost never.

Q Where can I find more information about copyright, P2P, and sharing music and videos?

A Resources are available to help you understand the issues involved in this complex topic. You may want to start with these:  


U.S. Copyright Office

Adapted with permission from Sharing Music & Movies, Copyright © 2010 The Trustees of Hamilton College. All rights reserved.

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