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Peer-to-Peer File Sharing Policy

Intellectual property rights are what allow us all to benefit from creative and scholarly works produced by others.  As an institution of higher education committed to leadership in communication studies and the performing arts, Emerson College endeavors to nurture respect for all intellectual property rights of others.  The College also requires that its faculty, staff, and students comply with all applicable College intellectual property policies and the law, including federal copyright law.

In 2008, the U.S. Congress passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which, among other things, requires that colleges and universities assist in the effort to effectively combat copyright infringement.  This legal requirement applies to unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials by users of the College’s computing network.  In other words, the law now requires the College to take affirmative steps to stop all members of its community from using the College’s computing resources to engage in illegal peer-to-peer file sharing. 

While Emerson does not routinely monitor the electronic activities of its students, it does have a procedure in place for responding to claims by copyright holders that members of the Emerson community have infringed a copyright. For example, when community members using the College’s network engage in illegal file sharing over the Internet through a peer-to-peer client such as LimeWire, Gnutella or KaZaA, copyright holders and their representatives such as the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) may discover that activity through a variety of methods. The copyright holder or its representative may notify the College of the unlawful activity, and the College is required to take action in response.

Reports of copyright infringement by students are referred to Emerson’s Office of Student Conduct, and the alleged infringers may face disciplinary action under the College’s Code of Student Conduct up to an including loss of housing and suspension from the College. Reports of alleged infringement on the part of employees are referred to the employee’s department head. Illegal activity by any network user may result in suspension or termination of network privileges.

In addition, copyright holders and their representatives may take legal action against infringers, and the resulting penalties can be very steep. Courts may award the victim of infringement actual damages (for example the amount of lost profits resulting from the infringement), or statutory damages ranging from $750 to $30,000 per work infringed. In cases of willful infringement, courts may award as much as $150,000 per work infringed.  In fact, last year a federal court in Boston ordered a Boston-area graduate student accused of illegal file sharing to pay $675,000 in damages to copyright holders. In some instances, courts may also award the copyright holder their reasonable attorney's fees incurred in enforcing their rights. The law even permits a court to impose criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment. 

There are legal alternatives to illegal file sharing, which permit sharing of songs, movies, shows, clips and a variety of other electronic media while preserving the intellectual property rights of the artists or copyright holders.  Links to those alternatives, together with links to applicable copyright resources, are provided below.

Please think twice.  Is it worth the risk of incurring College sanctions, a lawsuit, and thousands of dollars in damages for a free song, video or film? 

Copyright Resources