Sharing Music & Videos: Your Responsibilities with Respect to Copyright Law

Many members of the Middlebury community have questions about the sharing of music and movies in digital format over the Internet. These policies and procedures describe how Middlebury College handles alleged copyright violations concerning file sharing. You should understand the risks of certain types file sharing given potential legal action.

Peer-to-Peer Programs (P2P)

Spurred by the widespread use of the Internet, P2P programs make it easy to share music, video, games and other files without regard to the restrictions placed on that material by the copyright owners.

Most commercially produced music, movies, games and software are copyrighted and are not to be freely shared without permission. This is the law.

Protect Yourself: Do it Legally

Members of our community must follow college policies for appropriate use of technology resources under the law as described in the College Handbook. see: Responsible Use of Computing and Network Service and FacilitiesNetwork Policies.

Legitimate means to share and acquire music and videos include services that provide options to buy individual tracks & videos (e.g., iTunes, Amazon); or subscription services (e.g., Napster). Some sites that advertise "free downloads" may not offer legal sharing; others offer content freely in order to promote new albums, videos, or other artistic creativity.

Sources for legal downloading may be found at:

RIAA's Music Matters list of legal music sites

File sharing software resident on your computer may make your audio and video files available for uploading over the Internet without your knowledge or permission. For more information on how to remove a file sharing application, please contact the Technology Help Desk at extension 2200.

Copyright Law

Copyright law is complicated and its interpretation can be controversial. Title 17, United States Code governs the making of reproductions and performance (including transmission over the internet) of copyrighted material regardless of the format of that material. Under the law, you are responsible not to violate the rights of copyright holders.

In most situations, permission needs to be obtained from the original copyright holder such as the publisher, author, or performer before a copy can be legally made.

In some situations, portions of works may be made for personal, educational and research use under "fair use" guidelines. see: Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) also spells out protection for copyright holders and actions internet service providers (including Middlebury College) must follow if an alleged copyright infringement takes place (see below).

If you distribute copyrighted music and videos you are putting yourself at risk of facing civil or criminal actions in federal court if you have not acquired appropriate permisisons.

The potential consequences of illegally sharing copyrighted material over the Internet are serious and costly.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) specifies procedures that Middlebury College must follow when notified that an individual using our network is violating copyright laws. If the copyright holder contacts Middlebury about a violation, if we are able to trace the network address for the alleged time of violation, we notify the user of that network address, and require removal of the offending material from the computer. For repeated notifications, we block network access from the identified network address.


The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is known to send pre-litigation settlement letters to internet service providers (including hundreds of colleges and universities across the U.S.) to forward to College students, suggesting payment of hundreds of dollars per song allegedly acquired illegally via the internet, instead of facing a possible lawsuit. If Middlebury College receives such letters, LIS will attempt to forward them to the right users. The settlement letters contain an internet address of a computer (such as identified by the RIAA that downloads or uploads copyrighted music files.

If the College receives a notice to subpoena the names of people who are sharing music over the internet, LIS will immediately contact College legal counsel for advice on how to proceed. We may be required to provide the name of the alleged violator who is using our network. These subpoenas can lead to lawsuits, substantial financial penalties and perhaps jail time. Typically, if copyright infringement claims are settled out-of-court, the costs can be several thousand dollars per song, totaling tens of thousands of dollars per lawsuit.

If a copyright holder files suit, the individual has the right to claim that the material is not protected by copyright and then a legal process begins between the individual and the copyright owner. If you receive a pre-litigation settlement letter or a subpoena, immediately contact your own legal counsel.

Learn more!

The recording industry perspective: RIAA

Concerned about public policy, the law and your rights? Visit the Electronic Music Foundation.