Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

Do you use peer-to-peer (P2P) programs like Kazaa, Bit Torrent, Gnutella, or Limewire or uTorrent to listen to and share music, video, application files? Did you know that you could be violating U.S. Code Title 17 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by doing so? This could impose civil and criminal penalties including fines, jail time, and lawyer’s fees. Note that the minimal per instance fine associated with copyright infringement for civil penalties is $750.00 and criminal penalties can go as high as $250,000 per instance and five years in prison.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 is a federal law that is designed to protect copyright holders from online theft - that is, from the unlawful reproduction or distribution of their works. The DMCA covers music, movies, text and anything that is copyrighted. This includes copyrighted music and songs and applications. 

  • If you are downloading content that is copyrighted and haven't paid a licensing fee for it, you are violating the DMCA.
  • If you are ripping copyrighted CDs onto your computer and then sharing them, you are violating the DMCA.
  • If you are sharing copyrighted movies and/or television programs, you are violating the DMCA.

How do you know if something is copyrighted? Most material will say so either somewhere on it or on the case or writing that it might have come in, but a good sign that something is copyrighted is if someone had to BUY it.

HEOA (Peer-to-peer Requirements):

H.R 4137, the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), is a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. It includes provisions that are designed to reduce the illegal uploading and downloading of copyrighted works through peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. These provisions include requirements that:

  1. Institutions make an annual disclosure that informs students that the illegal distribution of copyrighted materials may subject them to criminal and civil penalties and describes the steps that institutions will take to detect and punish illegal distribution of copyrighted materials.
  2. Institutions certify to the Secretary of Education that they have developed plans to "effectively combat" the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material.
  3. Institutions, "to the extent practicable," offer alternatives to illegal file sharing.
  4. Institutions identify procedures for periodically reviewing the effectiveness of the plans to combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials.

HEOA Compliance:

To comply with H.R. 4137 the Higher Education Opportunity Act, SUNY Oswego takes the following actions.

  1. Every fall semester an email is sent to all students informing them of this policy.
  2. SUNY Oswego utilizes technology to rate-limit and identify use of peer-to-peer file sharing usage.  
  3. SUNY Oswego posts links to websites with information on methods to obtain copyrighted materials legally. Legal Sources of Online Content can be found at the EDUCAUSE site.  
  4. SUNY Oswego CTS staff continually monitors network traffic. Any changes in the amount of peer-to-peer traffic or DMCA complaints will be documented and action taken through technology or procedures.



When SUNY Oswego receives a DMCA notification the following procedures are followed:

  • CTS first checks to make sure that the notification is valid. We verify that certain pieces of information and certain wording required by law are included.
  • If the notification is valid, CTS looks through authentication and network registration records to determine what user was logged on or registered to during the time period the violation occurred.
  • The network connection of the offending user is blocked for a minimum of two weeks, longer if prior DMCA notices for the user have been received.  If multiple offenses occur, a port/account maintenance charge may be applied.
  • The notice is then forwarded to Student Conduct along with the user information and if any prior DMCA notices had been received for this user.  
  • Student Conduct will contact the offending user regarding the notice.

DMCA Violations

Sometimes, SUNY Oswego receives warning notices from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and other companies of material that is being shared illegally from our campus. SUNY Oswego immediately takes action upon receiving these notices. There is a formal procedure that is followed when the campus receives these notices. Detailed information about the steps that we take upon receiving a notice is on our DMCA notification procedures page. Since February 2007, the RIAA is more aggressively targeting university students who are violating the DMCA. Instead of sending warning notices, they are sending pre-lawsuit letters to students on university campuses who have been found uploading and/or downloading copyrighted material. The pre-lawsuit allows them to settle at a reduced amount of money than if the case goes to court. Note that the minimal per instance fine associated with copyright infringement is $750.00 but can go as high as $250,000 and five years in prison.

You could violate federal copyright law if:

  • Somebody e-mails copyrighted material to you and, in turn, you forward it to one or more friends.
  • You make an MP3 copy of a song from a CD that you bought (purchasers are expressly permitted to do so) but subsequently make the MP3 file(s) available on the Internet using a file-sharing network.
  • You join a file-sharing network and download unauthorized copies of copyrighted material you want from the computers of other network members.
  • To gain access to copyrighted material on the computers of other network members, you pay a fee to join a file-sharing network that is not authorized to distribute or make copies of the copyrighted material. You then download unauthorized material.
  • You transfer copyrighted material using an instant messaging service.
  • You have a computer with a CD burner that you use to burn copies of music you have downloaded onto writeable CDs which you then distribute to your friends.

A simple rule of thumb to help you identify which materials are protected by copyright and which are not: If you would typically pay for it, then it is probably protected.

What can you do to make sure you aren't illegally sharing music files or other copyrighted files on a peer-to-peer network?

  1. Make sure you own any copyrighted music, movies, etc. on your computer. You are allowed to rip a music CD that you have purchased to your computer - you just can't share it through the popular peer-to-peer file sharing programs. Remove any files that you do not own or purchase them through the Apple iTunes store or other online music/video store including Vudu, Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, Amazon and more.
  2. Make sure your peer-to-peer file sharing program is not automatically sharing files. The University of Chicago has a great page on how to check the popular file sharing programs to see if you are sharing music files.
  3. Watch the video on downloading music published by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
  4. Tell your friends!

Below are some additional resources: