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Copyright Infringement and Peer to Peer File Sharing Policy

Authority: Information Technology
Date Enacted or Revised: Enacted January 2016; Revised July 2016; August 9, 2021

Purpose

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) requires higher education institutions to practice due diligence informing students about copyright infringement risks. All higher education institutions must: 

  • Provide an annual disclosure to all students and employees.
  • Implement a plan to effectively combat on-campus network copyright abuse.
  • Inform students and employees of civil and criminal penalties and University disciplinary actions as a result of copyright infringement and peer-to-peer file sharing.
  • Offer alternatives to illegal downloading.

Policy

McNeese State University strictly prohibits the unauthorized distribution or downloading of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing. Any individual utilizing McNeese’s computer system or network to participate in this behavior may subject themselves to criminal and civil liabilities. Users who engage in illegal activities may be limited, restricted, or denied access to University resources. The University reserves the right to institute disciplinary actions, such as reprimand, suspension, and dismissal.

The Chief Information Technology Officer developed a written plan to combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials by users of the University’s network. The Office of Information Technology implemented this plan through a multi-layered approach, comprised of the following devices:

  • Allot NetEnforcer AC-3000 series 
  • NetEqualizer NE3000 series 
  • Cisco Wireless Lan Controller (WLC) 5520 series 

Through the combined technology of these devices, administrators have centralized visibility and control over delivery. Bandwidth can be fully managed, shaped, and blocked when necessary. All devices are upgraded regularly to ensure effectiveness.

Should the Office of Information Technology receive a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice, the following procedures are followed:

  1. The offending device is located on the network at which point the system administrator will disable the data port or block access to the device.
  2. An attempt will be made to identify and contact the owner of the device. If the owner cannot be identified or contacted, the device will remain disabled until the individual reports the loss of connectivity.
  3. Once contact with the owner is made, if the owner of the device is a student, she/he will be directed to the Office of Student Services for disciplinary action. If the owner of the device is an employee, she/he will be directed to their supervisor or dean for disciplinary action.
  4. The system administrator will reestablish the access to the device only after being contacted by the Office of Student Services or by the employee’s supervisor or dean. 

This equipment configuration, as well as the written plan, is reviewed annually by Information Technology to ensure effectiveness in combatting the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials and peer-to-peer file sharing. 

Civil and Criminal Penalties

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 website of the U.S. Copyright Office at copyright.gov, especially their FAQs at copyright.gov/help/faq/.

University Disciplinary Actions

All enrolled students are bound by the Code of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity. Included in this code is the Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources Policy, which forbids students from utilizing information technology resources in ways that violate civil and criminal laws (Code of Student Conduct 3.28 Policy Violation; 3.34 Law Violation). Students alleged to have illegally utilized these resources will be summoned by the Office of Student Services, will be advised of their rights under the Code of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, and will have their case adjudicated under the Code.  Students found guilty of violating the Code of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity can face penalties, singularly or in aggregate, ranging from verbal reprimand (minor violation), suspension of rights and privileges (moderate violations), to expulsion from the institution (major violation).

Employees must abide by the Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources Policy as well and may face disciplinary actions, up to and including termination, for violation of this policy.

Legal Alternatives for Downloading Copyrighted Materials

Students are expected to utilize legal alternatives to illegal downloading of music, movies, television shows, and other copyrighted materials. EDUCAUSE has developed an extensive list of legal alternatives, which can be viewed at www.educause.edu/focus-areas-and-initiatives/policy-and-security/educause-policy/issues-and-positions/intellectual-property/legal-sources-onli.

Communication

This policy is distributed via the Academic Advisory Council, the Administrative Advisory Council, Campus Digest, Student Digest, and the University Policies webpage.