Copyright FAQ

What you need to know about sharing music, movies and more.

There can be grave consequences for those who engage in illegal sharing of copyright protected material.  This FAQ is meant to help you understand what is legal and what is not.


What is Digital Rights Management and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) passed by congress in 1998, makes it illegal to copy or share intellectual property “music, videos, games, software and other digital materials ” without permissions.  Lewis & Clark adheres to the regulations and guidelines outlined by the DMCA.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) refers to the technologies used by publishers and copyright owners to control access to and usage of digital data.  The DMCA makes it illegal to produce and distribute technology that circumvents these copy-protection methods.

Is it really illegal to share music and movies from my computer?

Yes, in most cases.  More specifically, it is illegal unless you own the copyright on the work or have permission from the owner to distribute it.  For the vast majority of material (e.g., anything that is for sale in stores or online) it is illegal to download or upload/share copies.  There are a few exceptions:

  • You can legally distribute material that you have the rights to (e.g., material that you create and publish yourself).
  • If the owner (typically the creator) gives you permission to give away the material (e.g., CD’s of your friends band).
  • Streaming via iTunes is legal for music purchased from the iTunes store.

Unauthorized downloading or uploading/sharing of copyright protected material can result in legal action against you, including lawsuits by the copyright holder or their agent (e.g., RIAA).  It is also a violation of Lewis & Clark’s Responsible Use of Technology Resources Policy.

Isn’t it okay to share just within the Lewis & Clark community?

No.  It is also not “safe” to break the law on campus; students at other institutions have been sued for illegal sharing that was limited to their campus network.  They settled out of court.

Is it legal to just download copyright protected material as long as I don’t share it?

There are legal ways to download copyright protected materials such as the iTunes music store, and many more that can be found through a web search.  Each service has some kind of revenue whether through simple sales, monthly subscription fees or advertising.

However peer-to-peer file sharing of copyright protected material without the copyright holder’s permission is illegal, whether you are serving it up or downloading it.  A useful analogy is receiving stolen property.  And in most cases, the software you use to download files will automatically sharing files, maybe without your knowledge.

Isn’t sharing music protected as “fair use” under copyright law?

The doctrine of “fair use” is an important one, especially in an academic setting.  But the vast majority of online music sharing is done in ways that do not constitute “fair use”.  More information is available under the question “Where can I learn more?”

Will Lewis & Clark protect my identity or defend me if I am sued?

Lewis & Clark complies with legal subpoenas.

But sharing is good for the record companies, their sales keep going up!

This is a good point to argue change to the current governing law, but it doesn’t change the current legal setting.

What risks result from sharing digital copyright protected content online?

Copyright holders can file lawsuits against you (a tactic that has be pursued aggressively).  The penalties can be quite large and most cases are settled out of court.

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 copyright protected work.  In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyright protected work with 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, Sections 504, 505.

Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines up to $250,000 per offense.

For more information, please see the Web site of the U.S. Copyright Office at, especially their Primary Resources at

Copyright holders (or their agents) can also notify Lewis & Clark of infringements that are taking place on our network and require us to intervene and stop the infringing activity. 

Where can I learn more?

For more information on the DMCA, please refer to:

The Consortium of College and University Media Centers and the Music Library Association both have sites that address copyright issues, including “fair use”, in college and library settings.

For some insight into how some copyright holders view these issues, visit the sites of the Recording Industry Association of America or the Motion Picture Association of America.

The United States Copyright Office at the Library of Congress has good general information about copyright law.

There are many ideas on how current law or business practices could be changed to reduce the incentive to steal music (and other digital works) and still reward the creators.  Here is just one from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Are their legal online resources for copyright protected digital materials?
There are many legal sources for copyright protected materials such as music, movies, television shows, etc. They have a wide range of business models, some even free. The most up to date and comprehensive lists of legal sources are maintained by industry associations.

 EDUCAUSE Legal Downloading Resources

Lewis & Clark’s library also has some licensed resources available. Contact the Library for information.