Copyright Law

Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws

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.

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 FAQ's at

(source US Dept of Education)

SF State disciplinary procedures

Automated detection systems flag electronic file sharing violations and provide detailed data to identify violators. Violators are subject to sanctions as defined in the CSU Student Conduct Procedures. The University will shut down the internet account of first-time offenders until the offender meets with the appropriate representative from Housing (if the violator is a resident) or the Office of Student Judicial Affairs to receive a Level One - Administrative Warning. A second offense, a Level Two Violation, is forwarded to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs for disciplinary action.

Copyright violations may jeopardize student status.

What is "copyright"?

Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, including whether they want compensation for it and how it will be distributed.  The development of digital technologies have introduced new difficulties in enforcing copyright, but do not waive the rights of a copyright holder.  Deliberately (willfully) circumventing legitimate copyright protections or illegally accessing, copying, or distributing copyrighted material is a criminal act and may carry significant monetary and/or criminal sanctions. Use of state owned property to do so may incur additional penalties. Illegal file-sharing and other copyright infringements violate Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations and Federal copyright law. These laws apply to all forms of information, including music, videos, written works and software.

Illegal file-sharing copyright violation fines up to $250,000

Submit any apparent violation of ITS Policies to the appropriate administrative authority (vice president, dean, director, department, or program chair) or email

Unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject a student to civil and criminal liabilities including imprisonment of up to 5 years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense. Please refer to SF State's policy on Copyright and Fair Use for more information.

What is "fair use"?

SF State recognizes the value of legitimate file sharing, and therefore supports the legal sharing of materials when copyrights are not violated. The "fair use" provision of the copyright law allows for limited reproduction and distribution of published works without permission for such purposes as criticism, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research. It is the responsibility of users who are downloading, uploading and accessing files to make certain they have the necessary permission of the copyright holder.

Finding information on a copyright holder's original intention is often difficult.  Creative Commons provides a search tool which clearly identifies the author's rights (in many cases the works are free to use). Additionally, is a clearinghouse for contacting copyright holders.

What is "infringement"?

Infringements of copyright laws include, but are not limited to, making unauthorized copies of any copyrighted material (including software, text, images, audio, and video), and displaying or distributing copyrighted materials over computer networks without the author's permission except as provided in limited form by copyright fair use restrictions. The unauthorized sharing of peer-to-peer file copyrighted works, including music, pictures, and movies, is a violation of the SF State Responsible Use Policy (RUP) and CSU policy and is illegal under current Copyright Law.

Legal alternatives for downloading