Digital Copyright Compliance at Rice

Downloading, copying and sharing material, such as music, movies, games, and applications, for which the copyright holder has not given you rights is both against the law and Rice University's policy Appropriate Use of Information Technology (Policy 832).

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008, also referred to as H.R. 4137, was signed into law on August 14. The HEOA primarily addresses obstacles that make it difficult for qualified students to obtain a college education, but it also includes specific statements requiring colleges and universities to comply with digital copyright laws.

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, see the web site of the U.S. Copyright Office at, especially their FAQ's at

Rice University is required to take the following steps.

  1. Provide an annual disclosure to the community, stating the illegal distribution of copyrighted materials is subject to both civil and criminal penalties
  2. Consider the use of technology-based deterrents to illegal file sharing
  3. Offer alternatives to illegal file sharing

Alternatives to illegal file sharing

Open Source products