Response to Claims of Copyright Infringement and Recording Industry Association of America Pre-Litigation Letters

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 copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without 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 of up to $250,000 per offense.

For more information, please see the Web site of the U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov, especially their FAQ's at www.copyright.gov/help/faq.

Procedure Once a Claim is Received

When Northeast Community College receives a copyright infringement claim involving music, video, software, or other digital materials, it takes the following steps under the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA:

  • we check network usage logs and registration information to examine the system alleged to be involved in copyright infringement and we attempt to identify the person using it;
  • we suspend the system’s Internet access;
  • we notify the copyright holder (or agent) that we are handling the infringement claim under the guidelines of the DMCA;
  • we DO NOT disclose the user's identity;
  • we inform the user that an infringement claim as been made and ask if the user has downloaded or shared the copyrighted material in question without permission.

First-Time Offenses

If the user acknowledges using the copyrighted material without permission, we:

  • require the user to read the Acceptable Use Procedures-Electronic Resources (Policy 2010) and to review information about the DMCA statute and copyright regulations;
  • require the user to submit a statement: (a) confirming the copyright infringement, (b) acknowledging violation of the Computer User Agreement, and (c) promising not to repeat this behavior;
  • deny the user's system access to the Internet for five days;
  • inform the claimant that the matter has been resolved.
If the user denies using the copyrighted material without permission, we:
  • require the user to submit a statement denying the copyright infringement claim;
  • inform the claimant that the claim has been denied;
  • under the DMCA, the claimant may pursue a subpoena to obtain the identity of the system user and may file a lawsuit against the user.

Second-Time Offenses

If the user acknowledges a second instance of using copyrighted material without permission, we:

  • require the user to re-read the Computer User Agreement and to review information about the DMCA statute and copyright regulations;
  • require the user to submit a statement: (a) confirming the second case of copyright infringement, (b) acknowledging violation of the Computer User Agreement and his/her promise not to repeat this behavior, and (c) recognizing that any further violations will result in other actions as the College may deem appropriate;
  • deny the user’s system access to the campus network for five days and to the Internet for a period not to exceed the balance of the semester;
  • inform the Dean of Students of the actions taken;
  • inform the claimant that the matter has been resolved.

Third-Time or More Offenses

If the user acknowledges a third or later instance of using copyrighted material without permission, we:

  • Suspend him/her

RIAA Pre-Litigation Letters

In February 2007, the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) announced a new strategy for dealing with suspected instances of copyright infringement. The RIAA is sending "settlement letters" to colleges indicating their intention to sue users of systems engaged in illegal file sharing and asking colleges to forward those letters to users. Hundreds of these letters have been sent already. A sample settlement letter can be found at: http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/CSD4832.pdf

The letters inform users that they can avoid lawsuits by immediately contacting the RIAA and paying settlement fees. If users decline to do this, subpoenas will be sought to require colleges to disclose users' identities. Lawsuits will then be filed. Users may, at that time, avoid a lawsuit by paying settlement fees larger than the original settlement amount. If users again decline, lawsuits will be pursued to obtain damages and recover RIAA legal fees.

In the event that Northeast receives a settlement letter, the College will:

  • treat the letter as a DMCA copyright infringement claim and respond as per the DMCA response guidelines for a first-time offense;
  • forward the pre-litigation letter to the system user;
  • Northeast will not disclose the identity of a system user unless presented with a subpoena or other legally valid writ.