Digital Millennium Copyright Violations

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed into law the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which implements two 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties and addresses a number of significant copyright-related issues.

Title II of the DMCA establishes certain requirements for Online Service Providers (OSP) concerning copyright infringement violations including: 1) registration of an agent with the U.S. Copyright Office; 2) development and posting of updated copyright policies; 3) adoption of "notice and takedown" procedures for alleged copyright infringing materials; and 4) accommodation and non-interference with standard technical measures utilized by copyright owners to identify and protect their works. Title II, Section 512 addresses the issue of erroneous notifications from copyright holders by establishing certain safeguards. Individuals are given the opportunity to respond to a copyright infringement notice and takedown by filing a counter notification. The DMCA specifies that all notices of copyright infringement from copyright holders be in writing and be in the proper form of a DMCA notice.

Under DMCA, Iowa State University (ISU) is considered an OSP for its students, faculty and staff. DMCA requires the university to expeditiously respond to complaints it receives of copyright infringements. When notified, under penalty of perjury, by a copyright owner of infringing materials on a computer attached to the university network, immediate action is taken to notify the offender and remove the infringing material.   As an OSP, ISU may be served with a subpoena for the identity of the owner of a computer determined to contain infringing materials. ISU will comply with a lawfully issued subpoena that meets the requirements of the DMCA. Violation of the DMCA can result in severe civil or criminal penalties.

Action taken by the University to remedy and/or discipline an individual for a copyright violation does not preclude the copyright holder and/or the authorities from seeking civil legal remedies and/or criminal prosecution for copyright infringement. Federal law specifies that injunctions and orders to impound infringing materials may be entered by federal courts. Violators are subject to civil liability for litigation costs and attorney fees. Violators are also subject to liability for either the profits they earned from the infringement plus the actual damages suffered by the copyright owner, or statutory damages of $750 to $30,000 for each work infringed. Where the court finds that the infringement was willful, civil statutory damages may be increased to up to $150,000. Under certain circumstances, violators can also face criminal penalties up to $2,500, and/or imprisonment for up to 10 years (17 U.S.C. 501-511; 18 U.S.C. 2319). Additionally, anyone who helps or makes it possible for another person to infringe upon a copyright may also be held liable under a legal doctrine known as "contributory infringement (Sony Corp. v. Universal Studios, 464 U.S. 417, 435, 104 S.Ct. 774, 785, 78 L.Ed.2d 574 (1984))."

By far the greatest cause of copyright infringements is the use of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing services for sharing music and movies. Although the use of P2P file sharing is not illegal in and of itself, using it to share copyright protected files is, unless the person doing the sharing has express permission from the copyright owner. Generally, the P2P file sharing programs install the software and automatically share downloaded files with other Internet users. Copyright owners and their agents use automated methods to actively scan the Internet to detect computers that are illegally sharing copyrighted files.

A statutory limitation to the Copyright Act of importance to nonprofit educational institutions is Section 107, the doctrine of "fair use." Under this doctrine, limited use of copyrighted material is allowed without prior permission of the copyright owner if certain criteria are met. Section 107 lists purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered "fair," and presents factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair.

Pursuant to the requirements of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA), ISU monitors the efficacy of its plans to combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials on its network on an annual basis. Based on this analysis, ISU may modify this plan to improve effectiveness.

Additional information concerning copyrights may be obtained at the following sources:

What happens when the university receives a DMCA copyright infringement complaint?

  1. The notification goes to Information Technology Services (ITS) and is reviewed to determine if it meets the DMCA requirements.
  2. The registered user of the machine connected to the identified Internet Address (IP#) at the time of the observed incident is determined.
  3. If the registered user is a student, the identification information and the DMCA complaint are sent to the Office of Student Conduct. Otherwise the complaint is handled by the DMCA agent.
  4. An email is sent by the Office of Student Conduct to the user who registered the machine. The email includes information about copyright infringement, specifics included in the complaint, and requires the user to remove any unauthorized copyrighted material from their computer.
  5. If another complaint for the same file is received, then network access for the machine is disconnected until the complaint is resolved.
  6. First offenses are recorded but do not include University disciplinary action.
  7. Second offenses for the same file will result in disciplinary action and a requirement to resolve the complaint.  If the complaint is not resolved, network access will be restricted.
  8. Futher offenses involving additional files will result in disciplinary action which could result restricted network access in addition to sanctions outlined in the Student Code of Conduct.

Why Did I Get a DMCA Complaint?

Often students that receive DMCA complaint emails have questions about why they received a complaint. There are typically fairly few reasons that this may have occurred. The most common reasons for DMCA complaints are as follows:

  • A student has some type of peer-to-peer file sharing program on their computer that has copyrighted files (music, movies, TV shows, books, software, etc) on it, and when they log onto the ISU network, an outside association was able to "see" this file(s) at the student's IP address (so it was being shared).
  • A student has put their own files from a CD, DVD, software, etc onto a peer-to-peer file sharing program thinking it was okay because they owned the files, but receive a complaint because the files are being shared.
  • A student lives off-campus and has used their peer-to-peer file sharing program for a long time, but when they come to campus and log onto the ISU network, they receive a complaint because the files are being shared on this network.
  • Student #1 has a wireless router, and they have let their roommate (student #2) have their password to work on the internet. Student #1 does not have a peer-to-peer filesharing program, but their roommate does - and because student #2 is using the wireless router (which is registered to student #1) to connect to the internet, student #1 will receive the complaint.
  • A student has a friend or family member visit for the weekend, and this person uses the ISU student's computer to download and/or share files on a peer-to-peer program. Whoever the device is registered to (the ISU student) will be responsible for the complaint.
  • A student has a wireless router which they have not properly password protected because it makes their network slower (or some similar reason), and though they do not have a peer-to-peer file sharing program, they receive a DMCA complaint because someone else is using their network access to download/share files.
  • A student has helped a friend register their computer on the ISU network, and has accidentally registered this device to themself, so when their friend uses their computer to share files, the complaint comes for the wrong student. These complaints need to be reassigned to the person that actually owns the device in question.

All of these scenarios can result in DMCA complaints. Prior to passing the information on to the Office of Student Conduct, IT Services reviews each complaint to ensure it is valid. There are times when we need to further investigate a complaint, but 99% of the time, one of the above situations has occurred.

DMCA Compliance Information

Pursuant to the Act, Iowa State University has designated the following agent for notification of copyright infringement claims:

Rich Tener

Director of Information Security

101 Durham Center

Ames, IA 50011

Additional DMCA Links and Resources

Below are additional links to information about Peer-to-Peer File Sharing, Copyright Law and the DMCA.

For additional questions, please contact Joel Hochstein in the Office of Student Conduct.