Copyright - Penalties for Violation | Policies

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Copyright - Penalties for Violation

Information regarding potential penalties for violations of copyright law.

Owner: Information Technology

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 requires institutions to take steps to combat unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials through illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution.   The College generally applies a three step approach to such unauthorized distribution, but particularly egregious misconduct may result in more severe consequences.  

First violation:  The student loses network access and must report to Academic Computing to show that material has been removed from their system. He/she must also sign a letter acknowledging awareness of the copyright laws and the consequences of further violations. This letter includes a statement that the student understands that sharing other people‚Äôs intellectual property without their explicit permission is illegal, and that he/she will no longer engage in such activity. Once the infringing material is removed and the letter is signed, network access is usually restored.

Second violation:   The student is referred to the Office of the Vice Provost. Once the student has met with the Vice Provost or a designee and the infringing material is removed, network access is usually restored. 

Third or subsequent violation:   The student is referred for discipline under the Student Conduct Code and may lose network access and student housing privileges permanently. 

Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Copyright Laws 

Anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay actual damages or "statutory" damages of $750 to $30,000 per work infringed. For "willful" infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed. A court may also assess costs and attorneys' fees. See   Willful infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including up to five years imprisonment and fines of up to $250,000 per offense.


More information about Copyright may be found on the Columbia University Policy Library,, the Copyright Advisory Office,, and the U.S. Copyright Office website,, especially their FAQs at

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