Good Practice

Digital Copyright Compliance for Students


Can you legally share a video or mp3 file you downloaded with others?

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.


Use one of the Legal Sources of Online Content.

Sharing copyrighted materials with others is illegal in the United States.  Do not share downloaded materials with others via peer-to-peer software like BiTorrent or other torrent applications.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (also referred to as H.R. 4137) includes provisions related to illegal sharing or distribution of copyrighted materials. Colleges and universities are required to provide information to students and prospective students and to implement and annually review a plan to effectively deter illegal distribution of copyrighted materials such as music, movies, software, and TV shows. The University has developed and implemented such a plan.

Below are things you should know.

Policies & Sanctions

University Policy

The University takes illegal infringement of copyright seriously. The Acceptable Use of Information Technology policy for the University of Minnesota prohibits illegal copyright infringement and provides for removal of network access privileges and further disciplinary actions for repeat offenders. In addition to University Sanctions, Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws may also apply.

University Sanctions

Copyright infringement can result in removal of access to the University network or other sanctions up to and including loss of student status or other sanctions by the Office of Student Conduct for repeat offenders.

Summary of Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws

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 attorney’s fees. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504, 505. Willful 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, please see the website of the U.S. Copyright Office, especially the FAQ section.

Legal Downloading

The Higher Education Opportunity Act requires all colleges and universities to offer legal alternatives to unauthorized downloading. For a list of legitimate alternatives to unauthorized downloading, please visit the Legal Sources of Online Content page on the Educause website.

Questions & Answers

Below are answers to commonly asked questions about downloading copyrighted materials.

How do I know if something is copyrighted?

It is best to assume that music, TV, movies, and software are copyrighted unless you have authoritative information that they are not copyrighted.

What is a notice of copyright infringement?

A notification to the University from the copyright owner (or an agent of the copyright owner) that your computer was used to infringe upon a copyrighted work owned by them.

Is all music and video downloading illegal?

No-if you have the permission of the copyright owner or it is not copyrighted.

Is there a legal place to get music and movies?

Yes. Please visit the Legal Sources of Online Content page on the Educause website.

Does the University have any policy against copyright infringement?

Yes, the Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources policy.

Need help understanding copyright issues?

The University Libraries' Copyright Program offers free information, consultation, and workshops. Visit University Libraries' Copyright Services or contact 612-614-1851 or