Copyright and Fair Use

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. 

The Internet has made peer-to-peer  file sharing an easy and popular way to share information in digital formats. However, most music and video that are produced and sold commercially are protected by law through copyright and cannot be freely shared.

Cornell College employs a network infrastructure that actively monitors Internet traffic and blocks all identified peer-to-peer activity, and  individuals using the campus network are expected to be familiar with and to comply with established College policy regarding Network Access

Fair use provisions of the Copyright Act (Section 107) permit certain uses of copyrighted works for education and scholarly research, especially if the proposed use:

  • is nonprofit and educational
    Use in a class presentation is more permissible than use in something you will sell.
  • takes into account the nature of the original (i.e. highly creative vs. largely factual)
    Being highly creative in nature, music has more protection than a scholarly article, which is largely factual.
  • is not a substantial portion of the original, and
    Photocopying an entire book is not permissible, but one chapter is.
  • does not affect the potential market for the original.
    Buying a book at the bookstore, photocopying it, and then returning the book for a refund is not permissible.

For more information about fair use, see “What You Need to Know About Copyright”  .

Federal and Institutional Penalties for 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, please see the Web site of the U.S. Copyright Office at, especially their FAQs.

Cornell College students charged with copyright infringement will be subject to disciplinary procedures as described in the student handbook, The Compass.

Portions of this text are taken from the Information for Financial Aid Professionals (IFAP) guidance letter to colleagues, published June 4, 2010, DCL ID: GEN-10-08.  Permission has been granted for our use.