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MediaDownloading QuickPolicy

This Copyright QuickPolicy was created by the SRU Copyright Policy Task Force.
It resides on this site for the benefit of the Slippery Rock University community.

Slippery Rock University supports responsible media downloading. This QuickPolicy includes the main points you need to know about the Copyright Law of the United States as it relates to downloading media.

Disclaimer: SRU assumes no responsibility for violation of laws pertaining to media downloading, and makes this good faith effort to inform you of your responsibilities in this regard. It is University policy to protect the rights of intellectual property creators and owners.

If you break the law, you’re on your own.

So much can be found on the internet: movies and TV shows, music and images, articles and even entire books. Downloading all this stuff is easy.

BUT… there can be problems.

  • How do you know you are not violating somebody’s copyright?
  • What can happen to you if you do?
  • How do you stay out of trouble?

This QuickPolicy will give you the answers to these and other questions.

Part 1 - What is Copyright?

Visual artists including painters, photographers and graphics designers; filmmakers, musicians, composers, and writers rely on the sale of their creative work to earn a living. There is a system in place to make sure authors get paid and get credit when their intellectual property is used or copied by someone else. Look for the copyright symbol © at the beginning or end of a printed work, or on the title screen of a media production for information about the copyright owner.

Copyright law exists to provide legal protection for the creator and the work.

Examples of copyrightable works include: photographic images, paintings, drawings and sketches; web art, designs for buildings, furniture, interiors, and landscapes; motion pictures, television programs and web videos; recordings of music performances and scores, the spoken word, and any form of text, whether handwritten, printed, or saved as a digital copy.

Something doesn’t have to be published to have copyright protection. When any form of intellectual property is distributed without the permission of the copyright owner, depriving the owner of the opportunity to profit from the reproduction of the work, the law is being broken.

Some forms of expression are not covered by copyright law and are considered to be in the “Public Domain”. These include works that are either ineligible for copyright protection, or with expired copyrights. All works published before 1923,  works of the United States Government, or the underlying idea that is expressed or manifested in the creation of a work are considered to be in the public domain, and thus free of copyright restrictions.

For more copyright basics, see the U.S. Copyright brochure.

Part 2 - What are examples of media downloading violations?

Here are a few of situations that you might find yourself in where you are probably breaking the law:

  1. If you are downloading music, television shows, movies, stage performances, video clips, or software without paying anything, you could be breaking the law.
  2. If you know you are making a copy of something in order to avoid buying a copy yourself, you are very likely committing a crime.
  3. If you're getting music, movies, or other media for nothing, you have downloaded the music or media for your own use, and the service that makes the resources available is NOT affiliated with the artist, then most likely you are engaging in illegal downloading.

Downloading music from peer-to-peer networks is the most common illegal activity. Services that enable illegal file-sharing come and go, but some conspicuous examples are: BearShare, LimeWire, Kazaa, and Gnutella.

However, copyrighted media also include:

  • Unauthorized, or “cracked” copies of software NOT clearly identified as freeware or issued under a General Public License or GPL
  • Textbooks
  • Episodes of television shows and movies (but streaming sites like are OK)
  • Graphics like corporate logos
  • Photographs
  • MP3 files of videos, and games downloaded without permission of the copyright owner
  • Corporate logos used without permission
  • Licensed software from non-authorized sites used without the permission of the copyright or license holder
  • Movie files or segments of a movie available on a website without permission of the copyright owner.

Just because you CAN save and use a graphic, program, music or video file from an internet source DOES NOT mean that it is legal to do so.

Part 3 – What happens if you break the law?

The Recording Industry Artists of America (RIAA) actively monitors many popular file downloading services. The University regularly receives take-down notices from the RIAA, so illegal downloading activities taking place on campus are noted.

The RIAA frequently takes legal action against individuals suspected of illegal downloading, and this includes college students. This can lead to serious financial consequences, including both civil and criminal penalties:

  1. In a civil suit, copyright law sets a damage range of $750 to $30,000 per infringement, or up to $150,000 if the violation was "willful." The actual amount will be based upon what the court in its discretion considers just. See 17 U. S. C. §504.
  2. Penalties to be applied in cases of criminal copyright infringement are set forth at 18 U. S. C. §2319. Congress has increased these penalties substantially in recent years, and has broadened the scope of behaviors to which they can apply. A defendant, convicted for the first time of violating 17 U. S. C. §506(a) by the unauthorized reproduction or distribution, during any 180-day period, of at least 10 copies or phonorecords, or 1 or more copyrighted works, with a retail value of more than $2,500 can be imprisoned for up to 5 years and fined up to $250,000, or both.

Still not convinced? Here is an example of a penalty for illegal downloading:

NPR reported on October 5, 2007 that a federal jury in Duluth, Minn. convicted Jammie Thomas for copyright infringement for sharing music online. Thomas is to pay $9,250 for each of the 24 songs involved in the case ($220,000).

Part 4 – So when is it OK to download?

Sometimes it’s alright to download things. Some examples include:

  1. An artist or music label may offer free samples on their web site, and some software developers create freeware programs.
  2. Under certain circumstances, use of copyrighted material for educational purposes is considered “fair use” under the law.
  3. You can watch shows and clips on streaming sites like Hulu and YouTube and on TV network sites that stream their own shows.
  4. Many radio stations stream their programs free of charge. Pandora allows listeners to create “virtual” radio stations of preferred music.
  5. The commercial sites eMusic, Amazon, and iTunes all sell music by the track.


Subject Guide

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Heather Getsay
207 Bailey Library