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Copyright Basics: A Glossary


Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted by law to the creator of an original work (e.g., songs, films, books and articles, etc.). These rights allow content creators to protect their work and to determine how this work is used and distributed. Content creators also have the right to take legal action against anyone who utilizes or distributes their work without permission or outside of what is considered “fair use”. Violating copyright is often referred to as “copyright infringement”.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is the unlawful use of any material protected under copyright law. Common forms of copyright infringement on the Internet include:

  • Downloading copyrighted materials (e.g., songs, films, etc.) that you have not purchased or that are not distributed freely.
  • Sharing materials not intended for distribution.

Note: Purchasing and downloading a copyrighted work from a legitimate source does not give you the right to share that material over the Internet or to make copies for others.

Assume all materials are copyright-protected unless you created them or you have received the creator's explicit permission to distribute them.

Consequences of Copyright Infringement

Downloading and sharing files which contain copyrighted material is against the law. The responsibility to restrict sharing and monitor the legality of your downloads lies solely with you. This is what can happen to you:

  • Disciplinary action. Your name may be forwarded to the Dean of Students Office for disciplinary action. Sanctions include disabling your Internet connection permanently and withdrawal from the University.
  • Legal consequences. Copyright holders may offer a legal settlement option (a.k.a. Early Settlement Letter) or pursue legal action against you.
  • Financial implications. The minimum damage for sharing copyrighted material is $750 per file (in addition to legal and court fees). Some students who settled their cases outside of court were forced to pay substantial amonts. There is no way to predict how much you may be required to pay in settlement costs.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

The DMCA makes it a crime to create software that helps distribute copyrighted materials. It also limits an Internet Service Provider's (ISP) liability if the ISP notifies the alleged infringer and suspends access to illegal copies of copyrighted materials. As an ISP, IT is required to comply with the DMCA.

Types of Complaints

If you are suspected of a copyright violation, copyright holders or their designated agents may choose to contact the University with one of the complaints described below. (There is no way to predict the type of complaint you may receive. A single unauthorized download or upload can put you at risk for a lawsuit.)

During the 2007-2008 academic year, over 1000 members of the University community received DMCA Complaints and at least 100 students received Early Settlement Letters.

Note: The University does not monitor your Internet connection. Copyright complaints do not originate from UMass Amherst or the UMass Amherst IT.

DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Complaint

Formal complaint filed with the University by a copyright holder or their designated agent when reasonable evidence of copyright infringement exists. The complaint lists your IP address (the unique address that identifies your connection on the campus network), a summary of the copyrighted materials, and a timestamp for the infringing activity.

IT uses your connection's IP address and timestamp to tie you to the complaint, disable your network connection, and inform you of the alleged infringement.
Copyright Infringement Procedures

Copyright holders reserve the right to contact the University for every explicit instance of copyright infringement. This means that you will receive a Copyright Violation Notice for every complaint filed against you.

Early Settlement Letter

Formal settlement option that copyright holders may offer before pursuing legal action. Early Settlement Letters include a payment request (a value that can range into the thousands). Failure to pay the requested amount within the time window specified in the letter (typically 20 days) may result in legal action.

IT will forward you the Early Settlement package and offer an in-person consultantion for more information. We recommend that you contact Student Legal Services or a private attorney for legal counsel at this point. For more information on Early Settlement Letters, see our Copyright Infringement Procedures page.

Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Software

P2P refers to file-sharing applications (e.g., Shareaza, BitTorrent, FrostWire, Vuze) that enable users to share content with other computers in the same P2P network. P2P is mostly used for illegally downloading and sharing copyrighted materials.

Note: If you purchased a P2P application (e.g., MP3 Rocket Pro), you only licensed the P2P software, not the files that you obtain using this software.