Responsible Use of Electronic Resources

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Policy Library

Teachers College Policy Library

Responsible Use of Electronic Resources

Owner: Provost

URL: Use of Electronic Resources

Use of Copyrighted Material on Teachers College and Columbia University Computer Systems and Networks

The College provides an array of electronic resources and services for the primary purpose of supporting its missions of education, research, and service.  Whether you are a citizen, resident or visitor in the United States, it is your responsibility to comply with applicable copyright laws.  As a member of the Teachers College community, you also need to comply with the College’s policies regarding the use of electronic resources, including computers, networks, email, online information resources, and the use of copyrighted material on the College’s and Columbia University’s computer systems and networks.

Peer-to-peer file-sharing applications, such as BitTorrent and Limewire, have made it easier for individuals to obtain and share unauthorized copies of music, film, television programs and other copyrighted works.  The distribution or sharing of such unauthorized copies is against the law and exposes participants to legal liability.  The use of programs such as these for personal entertainment also places a burden on all members of the College community by consuming large amounts of bandwidth, interfering with appropriate uses of the College’s computer systems and network.  

Copyright Law and Policy.  Copying, distributing, sharing or storing  copyrighted material on the Internet or elsewhere without the express permission of the copyright owner infringes upon the copyright owner’s rights in the material unless an exception applies.  Violations of copyright law are also violations of College policy and may subject the violator to disciplinary action under applicable College procedures.

Copyright protection is broader than many people imagine.  It covers any original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium of expression.  A work is protected from the moment it is created and does not have to contain a copyright notice to be protected.  This broad protection means that just about any work you come across—software, books, music, film, video, articles, cartoons, pictures, email—is likely to be protected by copyright.  “Fair use” and certain other exceptions allow limited copying or distribution of protected works, but the exceptions are narrower than many people believe.  The use of peer-to-peer software programs to make and share copies of copyrighted music and movies without permission of the copyright owner would virtually never qualify for an exception.  The University provides helpful guidance on copyright, fair use, and other related issues at   

Monitoring Copyright Abuse.  Neither the College nor the University monitors its networks for content, only for volume of use.  However, the University automatically limits Internet access for computers generating excessive network traffic (see  If the use of any computer threatens the missions and activities of the College or University, access to the network may be suspended.

Representatives of copyright holders routinely survey networked computers to detect copyright violations, and the University has received an increasing number of complaints from these representatives. You can be in violation just by storing illegally obtained copies of works on your computer.  Even unintentional infringement violates the law.  Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the College and University must take prompt action when notified of a copyright violation.  Many members of the higher education community have been sued by copyright owners in the last few years.  A copyright owner can obtain a subpoena requiring the University to identify a person engaging in unauthorized copying, downloading or sharing.

In the event that the College receives a valid notification of an apparent copyright infringement relating to your use of the College’s systems, you will be notified of the alleged illegal activity by CIS, and your network access may be suspended until the issue is resolved.  You may be required to sign a letter agreeing not to engage in peer-to-peer file-sharing in the future.  If you violate copyright law and policy, you may be subject to disciplinary action; repeat violations will result in disciplinary action.  Under applicable law, the College must escalate sanctions for repeated copyright violations.

The Teachers College acceptable use policy, which incorporates the University policy is found at Acceptable Use of Information Technology.

A variety of sources is available for legally downloading entertainment videos, sound files and other resources, some at no cost.  You will find a sample listing at:

The College recognizes the growing dependence of the community on the services and resources the network delivers in support of education.  Proper use of those services and resources will enhance the quality of the network and systems for all.  Thank you for your careful attention to these important matters.

Responsible Office: Provost

Effective Date: March 1, 2012

Last Updated: April 2015