Copyright Law Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What you need to know about sharing music, movies, and more

St. Olaf College respects the copyrights of third parties and requires all employees and students to comply with copyright law.   The distribution of and copying of copyrighted digital files (music, videos, etc.) is a direct violation of copyright law.  Violations of copyright law as noted in IIT’s statement on Misuse of Computers are grounds for disciplinary review and loss of computing and networking privileges.

Is there really a law that bans sharing music and videos on-line?

Yes, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed by Congress in 1998.  This act makes it illegal to copy or share intellectual property (music, videos, games, software etc.) are considered intellectual property) without the consent of the owner.  This means that you are breaking the law if you copy or share music with others without getting the consent of the music owner.  Just because you bought the CD doesn’t mean you have the right to share it freely with others!

Who would ever find out if I shared my music with others via the Internet or even just here on campus?

Organizations such as RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) regularly scan the Internet for individuals sharing copyrighted materials and they do take action.  You can be prosecuted in criminal court, sued in civil court, and could be faced with jail time and fines ranging from $750 all the way up to $250,000 per copyrighted song, video, etc.!  The penalties can be really severe!

Is it legal to just download material from peer-to-peer services, as long as I don’t serve it?

No, it is illegal to download copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s permission.  There are ways to get music or videos legally and at a discounted price.   You can start your search at:   Another great site to check for legal music download sites is at

It is important to keep in mind that some of the software you use to download files automatically turns your computer into a server, all without any actions on your part.  You may end up serving copyrighted materials without even realizing it!

Is it okay to share just within the St. Olaf Community?

No, it is illegal to download copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s permission regardless of your location.  It’s also not “safe” to break the law on campus; students at other colleges have been sued for illegal sharing that was limited to their campus.  These students settled out of court to avoid the large fines and the jail time.

Isn’t sharing music protected as “fair use” under copyright law?

The doctrine of fair use is an important one, especially in an academic setting.  The vast majority of online music sharing is done in ways that do not constitute fair use.  St. Olaf has a copyright policy that outlines fair use guidelines.  You can read the copyright document at

Will St. Olaf protect my identity or defend me if I am sued?

No, St. Olaf will not protect your identity or defend you if you are sued.  St. Olaf College will comply with legal subpoenas.  If you are sued you will need to get your own legal counsel and will be responsible for all costs associated with the case.

Are there any campus ramifications if I am caught?

Yes, there will be ramifications.  You could face disciplinary actions and/or may lose the privilege to connect your computer(s) to the campus network.

Where can I learn more?