Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Copyright Violations

Federal copyright law protects the author of intellectual works. This copyright ensures that only the author or the author’s assignees have the legal authority to copy, distribute, create derivative works, or perform or exhibit protected works. These rights extend to the Internet and were supplemented by additional laws when Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA).

You could violate federal copyright law if:

  • Somebody emails copyrighted material to you and, in turn, you forward it to one or more friends.
  • You make an audio file (such as MP3) copy of a song that you bought (purchasers are expressly permitted to do so) but subsequently make the audio file(s) available on the Internet using a file-sharing network.
  • You join a file-sharing network and download unauthorized copies of copyrighted material you want from the computers of other network members.
  • To gain access to copyrighted material on the computers of other network members, you pay a fee to join a file-sharing network that is not authorized to distribute or make copies of the copyrighted material. You then download unauthorized material.
  • You transfer copyrighted material using an instant messaging service.
  • You have a computer with a CD/DVD burner that you use to burn copies of music or movies you have downloaded onto writable media and then distribute those to your friends.

There is a common misconception that you may duplicate and distribute copies of copyrighted materials as long as you do not sell the duplications. This is untrue. Copying and distributing someone else’s work may violate an author’s rights even when you are not selling the copies.

Violations to federal copyright law may carry heavy civil and criminal penalties. For example, civil penalties include damages and legal fees. The minimum fine is $750 per downloaded file. Criminal penalties, even for first-time offenders, can be stiff: up to $250,000 in fines and five years in prison.

A simple rule of thumb to help you identify which materials are protected by copyright and which are not: If you would typically pay for it, then it is probably protected. For more information, take our DMCA course in Canvas. Contact to enroll in the online course.

If you have copyrighted material on your computer and need assistance removing it, call Tech Support at 573.882.5000.


If you are using MU’s computer network, the University is your registered Internet Service Provider (ISP). The DMCA requires ISPs to take down or block access to copyrighted materials in a timely fashion when notified that their customers are sharing copyrighted files.

Complaints typically arrive directly from software, music, and motion picture associations, copyright holders, and law firms. The Division of IT disables network access for the listed device and attempts to identify the owner to inform him or her about the complaint. If the owner believes the complaint to be inaccurate, they are given the opportunity to contest the finding.

If your network connection has been disabled, call Tech Support at 573.882.5000. If you are informed that your connection has been disabled due to illegal file sharing or downloading, you must follow the steps below to have your network access restored:

  1. You must stop sharing of all copyrighted materials as defined by the UM Acceptable Use Policy and federal law.
  2. You must complete the Division of IT “Safe and Legal Computing on the Internet” course. After completing the course, you will sign an agreement to cease sharing copyrighted materials. Upon signing the agreement, it is expected that you will remove any files currently being shared across the network.
  3. Your device will remain off of the MU network for a minimum of two weeks.
  4. The Division of IT will assess a $200 administrative fee to individuals found in violation of policies related to illegal downloading or distribution of copyrighted files.

Any future violations by the same person are forwarded to the Office of Student Conduct for possible punitive action. Additionally, network access for students with multiple violations may be suspended for one semester on the second violation and forfeited permanently on the third violation. Any attempts to circumvent the disabling of network access are treated as a flagrant violation of policy and are forwarded to Student Judicial Affairs for punitive action.

In an attempt to reduce the unauthorized distribution of copyright protected works on the MU campus, the Division of IT has implemented a Peer-to-Peer File Sharing Policy which prohibits the use of Peer-to-Peer applications on the MU network.

Legal Repercussions for DMCA Violation

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), copying and sharing copyrighted materials without permission is illegal. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and some other copyright owners and groups have stepped up their efforts to curb illegal file sharing on the Internet. Some of these organizations distribute “early settlement” letters to universities around the country as part of their anti-theft campaign. Given this activity, it is more important than ever to understand the importance of using legal methods when downloading files and the University’s position regarding these early settlement letters.

As a matter of policy, the Division of IT takes action when it is notified that someone is using the University’s network to distribute copyrighted materials without permission.

Early Settlement Letters

MU has decided to forward “early settlement” letters to students that the RIAA or other copyright holders allege have shared copyrighted material illegally while using the University network. MU will send a cover letter along with any early settlement letter to the student’s email address as well as his/her current and permanent addresses. Unless served with a proper subpoena, court order, or other legal process, the University will not release the name of the student. By forwarding the early settlement letters, MU has made  no determination that a student has engaged in copyright infringement or that they should enter into an early settlement with the copyright holder. It is solely the student’s personal decision whether to respond to the early settlement procedure. MU believes that students should seek legal counsel before responding to these letters.

Legal Downloading

There are many options for legal downloading; a list of many of these services is available on the Educause website.

The Division of IT provides educational materials about the potential legal and policy enforcement consequences of illegal file sharing. To find out more about these programs, please contact the IT Security group at

To comply with the law and to protect yourself from possible litigation, we strongly encourage you to remove illegally obtained copyrighted material from your computer and to stop downloading copyrighted material illegally if you do so now. We will continue our educational efforts in this area, but ultimately the choice is yours.