Illegal downloading is still a serious problem on most college campuses, where nearly 75 percent of students admit that they never or only rarely pay for the computer software, songs, music, and movies that they get on the Internet.* Some of these students don’t know the rules against making illegal copies. Most probably don’t know the risks. Before you make a mistake while online, read this.

What is Copyright?
The U.S. Constitution provides for authors and others who produce original creative works to have an exclusive right to make and distribute copies of their work for a specified length of time. This copyright allows creative workers to profit from their labors and encourages creativity in American society as a whole.

What is Intellectual Property?
Copyright protects any original creative work that has been fixed in some tangible form of expression – writings, diagrams, works of art, musical compositions, sound recordings, photographs, motion pictures, computer software, and more. Such works are called intellectual property and may not be copied by anyone without the copyright holder’s permission.

What If There is No Copyright Symbol?
Today, copyright laws apply as soon as a work is created. There is no need to mark the work with a copyright symbol. In fact, your own original creative works – your school papers, drawings, photos, videos, even the message on your voicemail—are all forms of intellectual property protected by copyright.

What is Fair Use?
In the United States, copyright law permits the “fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.” This means that students, for example, can use excerpts from a copyrighted work in a school paper without obtaining the copyright holder’s permission. (Students must still cite their sources to avoid plagiarism.)  Fair use does not mean, however, that students can make copies of copyrighted works for their own personal use, or exchange copies with other students.

What is Piracy?
Any illegal copying or distribution of a copyrighted work is called piracy, even when there is no intention of monetary gain. In fact, most piracy occurs through simple disregard of the law rather than to make a profit. You could be committing piracy if you:

  • Download computer software, songs, movies, or other copyrighted works through a peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing network.
  • Provide copies of computer software, songs, movies, or other copyrighted works to others through a peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing network.
  • Post copies of computer software, songs, movies, or other copyrighted works online through a social networking site like Facebook or MySpace.
  • Use copies of songs, movies, or other copyrighted works to produce content for websites like YouTube or Flickr.
  • Attach copies of songs, images, or other copyrighted works to an email.
  • Burn copies of your computer software discs, music CDs, or movie DVDs for others.
  • Burn copies of borrowed computer software discs, music CDs, or movie DVDs.
  • Install borrowed software on your computer.
  • Share software by installing it on several computers.
  • Purchase illegal copies of computer software, music, or movies, whether online or on disc.
  • Make unauthorized use of any copyrighted content copied from a website.

What are the Penalties for Copyright Piracy?
Thousands of college students have been sued for copyright piracy, and most have paid an average of $4,500 to settle the lawsuit out of court. The unlucky ones have paid a far steeper price.

  • Copyright violators can be sued for up to $150,000 for each copyrighted work they have copied illegally.
  • Copyright violators can also be prosecuted on federal criminal charges. If convicted, they can be fined up to $250,000 or imprisoned for up to five years, or both.

These are just the basics.  For more in-depth information – including FAQ’s and everything you’d ever need to know about copyright law – visit the U.S. Copyright Office website at

*IPSOS Public Affairs survey conducted for the Business Software Alliance, May 2005.




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