Annual Copyright Compliance Letter

Below is the text of the letter sent to all USC students about copyright compliance, copyright infringement, peer-to-peer networks, and fair-use. For additional information about the types of correspondence referenced below, please see the Types of Copyright Infringement Notifications page.



Dear [Student]:

This email is being sent to all students at the University of Southern California to provide information about the lawful use of copyrighted materials on USC’s computing networks and in USC facilities, as well as the consequences of illegally uploading, downloading, and sharing copyrighted materials, including movies, television shows, online programming, music, and software.

Please read the message below carefully to learn about:

* Copyright infringement and the risks of illegal file sharing.
* Permissions and restrictions for the use of digital media, including fair-use exceptions.
* Options for legally downloading digital media.
* P2P file sharing.
* Types of copyright infringement notifications.

For general advice about staying safe online, including how to recognize phishing messages, please visit the ITS website at and the ITS security blog at


USC is committed to the education of its students. Over the past few years, USC has increased its efforts to make students aware of the policies that govern the use of its computing facilities and systems and to encourage the responsible use of USC computing resources. These efforts include providing information about copyright laws, particularly with regard to file sharing. This letter is not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of copyright laws; it is intended to provide you with basic information to help you understand the differences between legal and illegal file sharing.

Understanding Copyright Infringement

In order to protect you and the university from legal actions, we want to help you better understand the acts that constitute violations of federal copyright law, especially with regard to peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. If you use USC’s network to access, download, upload, or otherwise share copyrighted materials without permission, without making a “fair use,” which is briefly described below, or without falling under another exception to copyright law, you are likely infringing copyright laws.

In general, copyright infringement occurs whenever someone makes a copy of any copyrighted work, such as movies, television shows, online programming, songs, software, cartoons, photographs, or novels, without permission (i.e., a license) from the copyright owner and without falling within the specific exceptions provided for under the copyright laws. These exceptions include fair use and provisions of the Audio Home Recording Act, which allow for noncommercial copying of lawfully acquired music onto recordable compact discs (CD-Rs).

Understanding Fair Use

Copyright law provides no blanket exception from liability for university students based solely upon their status as students. There are limited circumstances where use of copyrighted materials without permission is allowable. One of these circumstances is under the legal doctrine of “fair use,” such as for purposes of news reporting, criticism, commentary, or teaching. Whether use of copyrighted material without permission is “fair use” depends on a very detailed, case-by-case analysis of various factors. For a better understanding of these factors, visit the U.S. Copyright Office website at

Permissions and Restrictions

When you purchase movies, television shows, online programming, or music, it is important to understand the answers to the following questions in order to avoid unwittingly infringing copyright:

1. What permissions come with the product? These range from very broad Creative Commons permissions, which allow for redistribution under certain conditions, to very restrictive requirements, which allow play on only one device, or allow only streaming, etc. It is incumbent upon you to understand the permissions.

2. What digital restrictions, if any, are used with the product? Many services use digital rights management (DRM) technology to control the use of the digital works they sell. DRM usually reflects the permissions and can range from allowing unlimited burns to CD to preventing any copying at all. DRM models can also limit what kind of devices you can play the music on. DRM with a subscription-based model may render the content unplayable if the subscription is not maintained. Some services do not use DRM.

Legal Downloading

Many resources exist for legal downloading and streaming of copyrighted materials. To learn more about legal alternatives to copyright infringement and for more information about copyright compliance, see

P2P File Sharing and Copyright Infringement

Peer-to-peer (P2P) computing is a powerful technology that has many uses. However, the use of P2P networks to upload, download, or share copyrighted material, such as television shows, movies, online programming, music, and software, can violate the rights of copyright owners.

In the P2P file-sharing context, infringement may occur, for example, when one person purchases an authorized copy and then uploads it to a P2P network. When one person purchases a DVD or digital copy of a work and then uses a P2P network to share that digital copy with others, both the individual who makes the file available and those making copies may be found to have infringed the rights of the copyright owner(s) and may be violating federal copyright law.

Although some artists and smaller labels release music under “generous” licenses, such as Creative Commons licenses, all of the major labels consider sharing MP3 files of their music over P2P networks as copyright infringement.

USC advises all computer account holders to use extreme caution when installing P2P software and to read all user agreements carefully beforehand. Make sure that you read all available documentation from the P2P software provider and understand how the P2P software is configured and operates.

Some P2P programs have default settings that index the files on your computer and make music or film files that you have legitimately acquired available to other users of the P2P network without your being aware of the activity. In such cases, you may unwittingly participate in copyright infringement. In this context, not being aware that your computer is making files available to other users may not be a defense to copyright infringement.

Organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) monitor P2P networks, obtaining “snapshots” of users’ Internet protocol (IP) addresses, the files that users are downloading or uploading from their P2P directories, the time that downloading or uploading occurs, and the Internet service provider (ISP) through which the files travel.

Copyright owners have been known to target both those who upload digital copies over the P2P network and those who download from the network. In addition to monitoring networks and obtaining IP address “snapshots,” copyright owners have been known to use P2P networks themselves, uploading copyrighted content while keeping a legal record of the downloading actions of other users.

Once an IP address and other information have been obtained, the RIAA, MPAA, and other copyright owners and their representatives can file a “John Doe” lawsuit and issue a subpoena to the ISP demanding the identity of the user connected to that IP address.

Risks of Illegal File Sharing

Contrary to what many students believe, U.S. federal law treats the unauthorized uploading, downloading, or sharing of copyrighted material as a serious offense that carries serious consequences. Any USC computer account holder who infringes copyright laws risks a lawsuit by the copyright holder, loss of access to the USC computer network, and disciplinary action by USC, along with possible civil or criminal fines and imprisonment.

In recent years, copyright holders and their trade associations, especially the RIAA and the MPAA, have aggressively pursued copyright holders’ rights and have been increasingly focused on university students.

Anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or “statutory” damages, ranging from $750 to $30,000 per work that is infringed. In cases of “willful” infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed. A court can also, at its discretion, assess court costs and attorneys’ fees. Moreover, willful infringement can result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to 5 years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense.

USC prohibits any infringement of intellectual property rights by any member of the USC community. It is against USC policy to participate in the violation of the intellectual property rights of others. USC’s policies regarding use of USC computing resources can be found at Please remember that you are responsible for all activity that transpires through your USC computing account and the devices that are registered to you.

Copyright Infringement Notifications

As an ISP for its students, faculty, and staff, USC receives notices from the RIAA and MPAA identifying the IP addresses of USC account holders believed to be sharing copies of copyrighted material without authorization. USC reserves the right to demand that the infringing conduct cease immediately; where necessary, USC will revoke the identified individual’s access to the USC computer network. In serious situations, further disciplinary sanctions may also be appropriate.

The RIAA or MPAA has often presented an option for the alleged illegal file sharer to settle the lawsuit out of court for some amount of money. If the user is determined to have infringed copyrights, whether through P2P networks or other means, and has not settled, he or she may also be subject to sanctions such as monetary damages and the required destruction of all unauthorized copies. In certain circumstances, federal authorities can criminally prosecute copyright infringement.

By participating in illegal file sharing, you may be subject to a lawsuit even after you have destroyed any illegal copy or copies of copyrighted material that were in your possession. For more information about the different types of notices related to copyright infringement, see

In conclusion, you need to be aware that sharing movies, television shows, online programming, music, software, and other copyrighted material may be a violation of law and can expose you and those with whom you share materials to civil and criminal penalties. Over the past few years, many students from USC and other universities have ignored the information provided to them about the consequences of illegal file sharing and, as a result, have been sued and have paid thousands of dollars in financial settlements for infringing on the copyrights of music and movie companies.

Please be responsible in your use of copyrighted materials.


Douglas Shook
Chief Information Officer


Ainsley Carry
Vice President for Student Affairs