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Higher Education Opportunity Act Notice on Distribution of Copyrighted Materials


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 unauthorized use of copyrighted materials is a violation of U.S. Copyright Law which protects the rights of authors and creators.  In particular, the download or distribution of copyrighted materials over the Internet is a violation of the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and Mount Holyoke College policies on the acceptable use of computer resources (AUP).  

It is important to be aware of and abide by the laws and policies concerning copyright protected material, and especially copyright protected digital content, such as video, music, books, articles, and software.  The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) mandates that colleges and universities take steps against copyright violations.  A violation of Mount Holyoke’s AUP may result in disciplinary action following procedures outlined in the Student Handbook and/or  civil or criminal legal action brought against you by the copyright holder.

Copyright protected content can be legally obtained from a wide variety of sources. EDUCAUSE maintains a list of resource options for legally downloading protected material and Library, Information, and Technology Services (LITS) can also help you to find sources that can be used legally with lists of suggested resources as well as through consultation.

College Procedures for Responding to DMCA Notices

DMCA complaints (also called “take down notices”) are responded to in a rigorous and systematic method as follows:

  • Upon the receipt of a DMCA complaint, the notice is forwarded to the infringing individual when possible.
  • The student’s access to the campus network is suspended and/or outbound traffic is blocked at the College’s firewall.
  • Some DMCA complaints lack sufficient information to identify an individual.  If multiple complaints are received that reliably identify a specific MAC address, that address is blocked from network access, requiring the individual to come forward to have access reinstated.
  • To have the suspension lifted, the student must certify via a written statement that:
    • the computer is secured from providing copyrighted materials to others,
    • the student has removed any copyrighted material that was obtained in violation of copyright law
    • the student understands from reading specified web links that both obtaining copyrighted materials and distributing them without proper payment is not legal under current copyright law and copyright infringement puts the student at risk of expensive penalties, including civil and criminal liabilities.
  • Records are kept of these interactions making it possible to discover if an individual has received multiple complaints.
  • Multiple offenses may result in further disciplinary action under the procedures outlined in the Student Handbook.

Summary of Civil & 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 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.

Information about Copyright and the Acceptable Use of College Resources

For more information about copyright law and best practices:

For more information on the Higher Education Opportunity Act and compliance:

MHC Accessibility Barriers Form