UCI Office of Academic Integrity & Student Conduct

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

Section 1

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

Understanding United States Copyright Law and Copyright Infringement Online

Between 2015-2020, over 900 UC Irvine students were caught illegally sharing copyrighted music, movies, videos, TV shows, and games online. Several of these students were sued for violating the United States Copyright Act and settled the lawsuits, brought by the music and movie associations on behalf of the copyright owners, for an average of $3,000 per incident. The UC Irvine Office of Academic Integrity & Student Conduct also disciplined hundreds of students for their involvement in violating copyright laws.

Since the late 1990s, peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted works such as music, movies, videos, TV shows and games (“Works”) has increased in popularity. In most instances, peer-to-peer file sharing of Works violates the Copyright Act and is copyright infringement. 

United States Copyright law, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), which the United States Congress passed in 1998 to address online activity, bars the unlawful reproduction, distribution or performance of copyrighted Works. Reproducing, distributing or performing a copyrighted Work without permission from the owner of the copyright in that Work is unlawful unless the reproduction, distribution or performance qualifies for an exception to infringement, such as fair use. If you are sharing copyrighted Works, either via peer-to-peer file sharing or in any other way, the easiest way to make sure that you are reproducing, distributing or performing the Work lawfully is to get permission from the person who owns the copyright in the Work for permission. One way to get permission is to subscribe to a service that gives you access to Works with a license (i.e., with permission) to use them in specific ways. Another way to get permission is to ask the person who owns the copyright in the Work. If you do not have permission (either via a subscription, license or individually), you are taking a risk.

With easy access to our favorite entertainment, it can be hard to resist the temptation to reproduce, distribute and perform copyrighted Works. In other words, it is too easy to share music, movies, videos, TV shows, and games online. Many of these copyrighted files are shared using file sharing programs such as Ares, LimeWire, and U-torrent. You should know that the owners of the copyright in these copyrighted Works may and do legally scan Internet traffic to look for copyright violations and send complaints to the University when they find potential violations. Currently, the entertainment industry is monitoring networks throughout the nation, including UC Irvine’s network, for illegal file sharing. By illegally downloading and sharing copyrighted Works, you are putting yourself at risk of being sued for violating United States Copyright law and of being disciplined for violating the Code of Student Conduct. 

Click here for the text of the United States Copyright Act (see especially section 106)
Click here for the full text of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
Click here for UCI's full list of campus policies

This site is intended to provide you with information about Internet copyright infringement. We feel that if we can educate you about the implications of continuing with this activity, and the dangers of file sharing, you will make better choices about your online activity. This page provides UC Irvine students, staff, and faculty with more information about illegal file sharing and with alternative resources for legal downloading. You will find several links to finding legal online music, movies and other electronic content.


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 website of the U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov.


Illegal File Sharing at UC Irvine

What is a copyright?

Copyright is an intangible right that belongs to the creator of an “original work of authorship” (i.e. a song, movie, video, TV show or game or a book, poem or painting) that has been “fixed in a tangible form of expression.” The person who owns the copyright in a copyrighted work is the only person who can make copies of the work, distribute the work or publicly perform or display the work. No one else can do those things without the copyright owner’s permission, unless an exception such as fair use (see below) applies. 

It is important to know that the person who owns the copyright and the person who owns a copy of the work (such as a record album or a book or a DVD) may not be the same person. For example, when Lady Gaga records a song, she owns the copyright in the Work (which she might sign over to her recording company), and she continues to own the copyright even though you may buy a copy of her CD. In other words, when you buy a Lady Gaga CD, you are buying the particular copy of the CD that the store gives you, but you are not buying the copyright, which belongs to Lady Gaga or her recording company.

What if I didn’t pay for it? 

  • If you haven't paid for it, don't download or distribute it. This includes pictures, music, videos, software, etc. labeled with a copyright notice. 

What if it doesn’t have a copyright notice?

  • Under United States Copyright law, works have copyright protection even if they don’t bear a copyright notice.  If it doesn't have a copyright notice, be safe, rather than sorry. Assume that it is copyrighted unless it specifically says that it is not. 

Where can I get more information?

  • For additional information about the University’s policy on copyright see the UC Policy on Copyrighted Materials at http://www.ucop.edu/irc/policy/copyright.html.

Facts about illegal file sharing

File sharing software programs are not illegal.  However, they are a tool that may be used illegally to violate United States Copyright law depending on what is shared and how it is shared.

Millions of Internet users are sharing files online every day. From music to software, file sharing can connect people across borders and provide users easy access to knowledge. At first glance, this sounds like a safe, quick, easy, cheap way to access your entertainment files, right? In many ways, it is, but the consequences of your actions can be great.

When you upload or download a copyrighted Work online, you may be infringing someone’s copyright and, thus, violating United State Copyright law. This is true no matter which computer network – UC Irvine’s or Starbucks’ your parents’ or the public library’s – you use. Copyright violators may be sued, and if they lose, they may be ordered to pay money damages ranging from $200 to $150,000 to several million dollars to the owner of the copyright. There may also be criminal penalties, such as imprisonment.

In addition to copyright issues that arise when you share files online, there are other consequences. When you use peer-to-peer file sharing programs, you are using the Internet to connect to computers owned by other users you don’t know. You may unknowingly allow others to access all the files on your computer, including your private files. Basically, the information on your computer is open to be shared with people you don’t know. Imagine your computer’s “my documents” folder is available for anyone to download. Suddenly you find your history papers floating around on the Internet. What if someone were to access those pictures you never want anyone to see? Maybe you downloaded a virus or Trojan horse? Or, what if you were to download or upload copyrighted music and find yourself intertwined with legal issues with the copyright owner and student discipline issues with the University? All of these scenarios are real possibilities that you should seriously consider before file sharing.


What issues should be considered?

Although file sharing programs are not illegal in themselves, certain uses are illegal. You should consider several points before engaging in this file sharing, including: compromising your computer safety and engaging in illegal activity that may have severe consequences affecting your college experience. We encourage you to research these considerations and we have created the list below to help you:



It cannot be said often enough: READ THE EULA (End User License Agreement) and all terms of service. Research your provider. Know whether it is permitted to sell your information to third parties. Some software allows adware, spyware, malware, and other malicious code to be downloaded to your computer. The malicious code transmits information from your system. It may capture personal information, including passwords and other data that could allow someone to steal your identity. Make sure you practice safe computing, install anti-virus software on your computer, and regularly scan for viruses and malicious code.


Licensing and Terms of Use
Some commercial services limit your access to the term of your subscription. Once you end your subscription, you can no longer play the music.


Fair Use 
Fair use of copyrighted Works is permitted under the United States Copyright law. Fair use means that you may make a “fair use” of a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright owner under certain circumstances. A fair use might be use for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research. Whether your use is a fair use is decided by a court after considering four factors: (1) the purpose and character of your use, (2) the nature of the copyrighted Work you used, (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion of the copyrighted Work you used, and (4) the effect of your use on the potential marked for our value of the copyrighted Work. Because these are the factors the court and the copyright owner will consider, you should consider them first. For more information about the scope and application of the fair use doctrine, please refer to the following, the University of California Copyright Education web site.


Cost and Quality

Streaming services typically are available for a monthly subscription, while downloads are usually (but not always) provided on a per-item basis. Less expensive downloads may have a lower quality.


Digital Rights Management (DRM) Restrictions

DRM is encryption embedded in data to protect the rights of the copyright owner and prevent certain activities. Some services provide music with embedded DRM encryption, and players that cannot successfully decrypt the media will not be able to play that music.



Services should provide statements asserting that they are compliant with United States Copyright law and with the DMCA. Remember that you are responsible for any stolen intellectual property. The University cannot protect you.


Type of Service

Some services offer streaming audio only, others purchase only, and others let you choose between streaming and purchase. Other sites offer access to online radio stations (usually commercial-free), media management tools, and other electronic content.



Some services restrict your ability to transfer downloads to other media, computers, and portable devices.


Supported Platforms
Most commercial music services support Windows operating systems. A few support Mac OS and Linux operating systems.


Supported File Formats
Services usually provide only one or two of the many available audio formats: MP3, AAV (Apple iPod), WMA (Windows Media Player), and Ogg (Linux) among others. Different portable devices support different formats.


Music catalog size, timeliness, and focus vary. Some commercial music services specialize in primarily independent or small-label artists; others have large catalogs, but the music may not be current. Larger services can offer a large selection of the latest popular music.


Tools/Client Support
Most services require the use of client software installed on the computer to facilitate downloads and manage music collections. If the service does not require a client, they likely provide an optional one.



The online music market is constantly changing, there are many competitors, and technology continues to evolve. Consider whether the service seems to have room to adapt to change or locks you into a particular format or technology.




UC Irvine Illegal File Sharing Policies

In compliance with federal law, the Office of Academic Integrity & Student Conduct is dedicated to upholding the policies and sanctions instituted by the University of California and United States Copyright law, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Under policy 102.05 in the University of California Policies Applying to Campus Activities, Organizations, and Students, and the University Computer and Network Use Policy (Section 714.18), the Office of Academic Integrity & Student Conduct will process any, and all, copyright infringement allegations forwarded to it. For a brief understanding of how the Office of Academic Integrity & Student Conduct responds to allegations of copyright infringement, consider:

  1. The incident is reported, typically to the University’s DMCA Agent, by the copyright owners or an agency representing the copyright owner, such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) or the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
  2. The University's DMCA Agent notifies the campus organization involved (i.e. ResNet, OIT). 
  3. The campus organization’s (i.e. ResNet/OIT) Systems Administrators identify the student involved. The incident is logged and that student’s Internet service is disabled.
  4. The student receives a letter detailing how to resolve the matter. 
  5. The student contacts the Office of Academic Integrity & Student Conduct, as specified in the letter.
  6. The student meets with a Conduct Officer to discuss his or her involvement in the incident. During this meeting a decision is made regarding the student’s involvement in the incident.
  7. After the meeting, the student’s Internet service is reactivated upon approval of the University’s DMCA Agent.

This is a general overview of how situations dealing with illegal file sharing are handled. For more information about the student conduct process, please read the Code of Conduct.
Content provided by Stephen D. Franklin, Director of Academic Outreach, Network & Academic Computing Services


Information About Copyright

If you would like more information about copyright on the college campus, go to the University of California Copyright Education web site. The site provides ample resources regarding copyright within the UC system, as well as the “fair use” of copyrighted materials for purposes of teaching, scholarship, and research. The more you know about copyrights and the Internet, the better. 


What’s legal? What’s not?

Having difficulty determining whether the content is legal to copy or share? Let us help! Typically, if you are purchasing the file from an online store, it is LEGAL. But, if you are downloading or sharing the file without the permission of the copyright owner, it is ILLEGAL. Below are examples of situations that might need clarification:

  1. Uploading, downloading, or sharing files without the permission of the copywriter owner, by any means (Peer-2-Peer, Email, IM, Facebook message, etc.) – ILLEGAL
  2. One of your friends legally purchased an MP3/CD/DVD/Other entertainment file, and you want to move a copy of the file(s) to your computer or other portable device. – ILLEGAL
  3. Using Peer-2-Peer network or Bittorrent to download copyrighted files that are otherwise purchasable online or in stores – ILLEGAL
  4. Downloading purchasable music, movies, videos, games for free from a website hosted in a foreign country – ILLEGAL
  5. Removing the digital rights management (DRM) restriction from a file so it can be copied to a portable device – ILLEGAL
  6. Converting a YouTube video of a commercial produced and available song to an mp3, without the permission of the copyright owner. – ILLEGAL
  7. My computer system crashed and I left my O.S. disc at home. I have the activation/purchase code, but downloaded the O.S. via Bittorrent. –Possibly LEGAL: Check your purchase agreement. 
  8. Uploading or downloading files I purchased legally through iTunes, Amazon, etc., on a Peer-to-Peer Network. – ILLEGAL
  9. Uploading or downloading a digital copy of a DVD that I purchased legally, by any means– Possibly LEGAL: Check your purchase agreement.
  10. Making copies of a file that I legally purchased, for my personal backup use – LEGAL

(Referencing UCLA’s Get Legal website)

Obtaining Music/Videos Legally

Although it may be tempting, illegally downloading and sharing music or movie files violates United States Copyright law and University policy. The consequences can be severe. Educate yourself about the law and your download sources. Fortunately, there have been a growing number of RIAA/MPAA-approved options for music and video streaming and downloading. A few of the services are listed below. 

And remember, if you're not paying something for a movie download service, it is simply a gateway to peer to peer network and is very likely the provider is not licensed to distribute the movie or video and that downloading constitutes a copyright infringement.

*Please note: UC Irvine does not endorse these sites or their content and has identified them only as examples of legal places from which to listen to, purchase, or download digital media content. 


Frequently Asked Questions

Does UCI receive allegations of copyright infringement?

Yes. On a regular basis. While some are about software, most are from representatives of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) or of companies belonging to the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and relate to filesharing by students.

What does UCI do when it receives such an allegation?

All such allegations are investigated. When network records indicate that the network connection that is alleged to be involved in the infringement is one for which a student is responsible, the investigation is carried out by the Office of Academic Integrity & Student Conduct. Investigation carries no presumption of student culpability. Indeed, one very strong reason for investigating such allegations is that the alleged infringement may be an indication of rogue software on a student’s computer without the student’s knowledge.

What do you mean by rogue software?

Software that the student may not even know is on his or her computer or that acts differently than what the student wants or expects. For example, a student may install a piece of software to facilitate legitimate sharing of materials with friends and family only to discover (or fail to discover) that this software is configured to share/distribute a much broader range of materials than the student intended. Sometimes the software is installed by a friend or visitor who is borrowing use of the student’s computer or even “helping the student out” based on (the presumption of) greater technical expertise.

Are you saying that students do not unknowingly violate copyright laws?

Of course not. There are a significant number of cases where the investigation shows that the alleged infringement was outside the student’s knowledge or intent, and there are also cases where the allegation is without real basis. There are also many cases where students have knowingly violated copyright laws. Intervening with these students may help them avoid some of the more drastic measures recently employed by the RIAA. It is important to know that your intent is irrelevant under United States Copyright law; if you violated someone’s copyright, you are liable, whether or not you meant to do it.

What do you mean by “more drastic measures?”

Starting in early 2007, the RIAA began sending cover letters to universities requesting that enclosed “early settlement” letters be forwarded to students who were unknown to the RIAA but that the universities were supposed to identify on the basis of specific details of network access (“IP address,” date and time) provided by the RIAA. These “early settlement” letters indicated the RIAA’s intent to subpoena and sue the student unless the student accessed a web site to pay an amount that was not disclosed in the letter. Reports of what that amount turned out to be indicate something between $3,000 and $5,000.

Has UCI received any “early settlement” letters and did it forward them to students?

Yes and yes. The “early settlement” letters were forwarded with cover letters which touched on many of the difficult nuances of the situation: the letters were forwarded in the belief that students would prefer to receive them, not because of the RIAA’s request.  The University could not offer legal counsel or representation to the student but encouraged the student to seek such legal support (and included contact information for the local bar association).  The cover letter also included information about the RIAA (the original RIAA reference provided no longer works; a comparable current RIAA reference is posted on P2P Lawsuits) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

What do you advise students and parents do?

First, don’t knowingly reproduce, distribute, download, upload or in any way share material you don’t have the right to share. Second, be very careful what you install on your computer and what you allow others to install. There is a lot of free software and other material but stay with reputable sites (download.com, not maybeware.somewhere.net). Common caution and skepticism may sound trite and dull, but it can avoid many serious problems.


Incorporating content provided by Stephen D. Franklin, Director of Academic Outreach, Office of Information Technology