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Higher Education Opportunity Act

Introduction

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: 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.

Institutions certify to the Secretary of Education that they have developed plans to “effectively combat” the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material. Institutions, “to the extent practicable,” offer alternatives to illegal file sharing. Institutions identify procedures for periodically reviewing the effectiveness of the plans to combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials. This document outlines Susquehanna’s plan to comply with these requirements.

 

What students need to know about Peer-to-Peer File Sharing

Before you share, beware! The unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including through peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject you to criminal and civil penalties. Although using peer-to-peer file sharing technology in itself is not illegal, what you share and how you share it may violate the law (just as while driving a car is legal, driving a car on the sidewalk at 90 miles per hour is not). The laws that govern copyright are not specific to any one technology; you can violate the rights of a copyright holder using many different types of technology. Both uploading and downloading of files can pose a violation of the copyright law, and the law applies for songs, videos, games, textbooks, and any other type of creative content. 

Use technology wisely. You are responsible for the choices you make and should be cautious when obtaining any copyrighted material. As a rule of thumb, before you download anything for free, you should research whether that source provides material licensed by the copyright owner. Individuals who violate the copyright law, even unintentionally, by illegally uploading or downloading may be subject to civil penalties of between $750 and $150,000 per song! For those who download or upload dozens or hundreds of songs, penalties could reach into the millions of dollars. These penalties are established by federal law. 

Content owners actively monitor file sharing networks and issue takedown notice to Internet Service Providers (including our college) requesting that the college remove these files or subpoenas requesting that the college turn over your contact information for the purpose of filing a lawsuit. Pursuant to state and federal law, the college must comply with all valid subpoenas. In the past, pre-litigation settlements offered by copyright owners prior to filing lawsuits against students have ranged from $3,000 to $4,000 and up while juries have issued verdicts against illegal file sharers of hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars. In addition, a court may, in its discretion, grant the copyright owner reasonable attorney fees.

Although criminal prosecution of students for file sharing is extremely rare, federal law lays out criminal penalties for intentional copyright infringement which can include fines and jail time. While it is generally accepted in copyright law that you may format-shift content, that is, you may rip a CD onto your computer and then listen to it on your iPod, that only applies for your own personal use. You may not then distribute that song file to others. To do so, is to violate the copyright law as is to download a file shared in this manner.

In addition to following the law, you must also follow university policy. Unauthorized distribution or receipt of copyrighted material is a violation of the university’s Conditions of Use Policy. That policy states that when you use IT services, you agree to respect the legal protection provided by copyright and licensing of programs and data. Respect for copyright and intellectual property is an important aspect of academic integrity. You can learn how to use other people's materials appropriately at the Susquehanna University Blough-Weis Library web site.

 

Plans to “Effectively Combat” the Unauthorized Distribution of Copyrighted Material

Annually, enrolled students are notified by email of the policies and sanctions. Policies are included in university publications and departmental websites. Posters are placed in computer labs and around on campus to inform members of the community. Technology solutions are used to restrict viral P2P applications. Traffic flow from residence hall and wireless networks can be limited or shut off when excessive bandwidth investigations points to copyright infringements.

 

Technology-Based Deterrents

We currently deploy Blue Coat Packeteer to shape bandwidth. We also have the ability to limit the number of simultaneous traffic flows from our residence hall and wireless networks. When we discover a system using excessive bandwidth, we contact the owner to ensure that the bandwidth consumption is for legal purposes and that the user is aware of the university’s policies concerning illegal file sharing.

 

Legal Alternatives for Downloading/File Sharing

For a list of legal alternatives for downloading, please visit www.educause.edu/legalcontent.

 

Reviewing Effectiveness

Compared to our peers, Susquehanna receives remarkably few (averaging less than two per year) peer to peer file sharing takedown notices. We will continue to monitor these notices to watch for unexpected increases that would require additional measures.




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