Summary of Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws

The following message was sent via email to all students on Mon 8/29/2011.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act requires the University of Mary Washington to provide an annual disclosure related to copyright policy and law.

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.

Unauthorized distribution, or illegal downloading and peer-to-peer file sharing, of copyrighted materials is in violation of the University’s Network and Computer Use Policy.  Students who violate this policy will be referred to the Office of Judicial Affairs and Community Responsibility for possible sanctions.

There are many alternatives to illegal downloading available.  The following link, provided by EDUCAUSE, provides a list of legal alternatives:

For more information please refer to the FAQ from the U.S. Copyright Office.

For additional information, you may contact the Office of the Chief Information Officer by calling (540) 654-2246 or email