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Consequences of Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement, including sharing copyrighted works without permission, is both against UT policy and against the law. Before you consider sharing music, movies, software, etc., you should be aware of the consequences of your actions.

University of Tennessee Consequences

Sharing copyrighted works without permission is expressly prohibited in the University of Tennessee Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources Policy #IT0110.

The University of Tennessee does not police or monitor its users for copyright violations; however, under the provisions of the DMCA UT is a content-neutral internet service provider (ISP) and is required to take action when a DMCA complaint from a content owner is received.

In those situations in which UT receives information sufficient to track an alleged copyright offender (e.g. an IP address and date/time of incident), the following procedure applies:

  • 1st Offense
    On the first offense, the Office of Innovative Technologies (OIT) contacts the student and does the following:

    • Explains why the alleged behavior is illegal and against University policy.
    • Instructs the student to clean the illegal material from his/her computer system.
    • Advises the student of future consequences should the offense be repeated.
  • 2nd Offense
    • The student’s network connection is disabled.
    • The student is required to take the system to the OIT Service Center to demonstrate that the copyrighted material(s) have been removed.
    • The student is advised of the seriousness of future consequences should the offense be repeated.
  • 3rd Offense
    • The network connection of the allegedly infringing computer is disabled immediately
    • The incident is reported to Student Judicial Affairs (SJA). SJA may impose sanctions in addition to those imposed by OIT.
    • The student is also required to take the system to the OIT Service Center to again prove the copyrighted material(s) have been removed.

Legal Consequences

Copyright violations are against US laws and international treaties, including but not limited to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 and other US copyright laws.

How you get caught

The University of Tennessee does not police or monitor its users for copyright violations, nor is it UT’s procedure to notify copyright holders of potentially infringing behavior should any potentially infringing activity be discovered during the course of normal operations.

Most copyright holders are represented by agencies such as the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America. These agencies employ technological means to track and monitor peer-to-peer networks, usually by connecting to the networks as another “peer” in the network. When they monitor a computer transferring potentially infringing material, the date, time, content, and address of the infringing computer is recorded. The Internet Service Provider (ISP) that manages the network to which the allegedly infringing computer belongs is served with a copyright notice, typically under the DMCA. Provided the information provided is sufficient, the ISP (e.g. UT) then takes immediate action to take down the offending material (see UT’s procedures above).

Note that during these proceedings, the University of Tennessee does not disclose the identities of its users to copyright holders. However, should the copyright holders choose to do so, they can initiate a legal process that includes serving a subpoena to UT to discover the identity of an alleged infringer.

Summary of 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