FAQs About DMCA and Copyright

Listed below are answers to some of the most-asked questions concerning digital copyright here at UVA.

I have received a DMCA copyright violation complaint notice.  What do I do?

This is a notice that is sent by industry representatives to the University, to complain of a specific copyright violation that has been detected here. The complaint identifies the particular offense that is alleged to have taken place, as well as the date and time of the infringement and the IP address of the computer associated with the alleged offense.  Follow these instructions.

See a sample copyright violation notice (DMCA Take-Down Notice)

To find out what happens when the University receives a notice like this, read our Information about DMCA Violation Notices page.

What can happen to me if I'm caught downloading or sharing files in violation of their copyrights?

Copyright holders and the people who generate the violation notices can prosecute you to the full extent the law allows. Here's a brief summary of the Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws.

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.

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, at 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. For more information, please see the Web site of the U.S. Copyright Office, especially their FAQ's.

Doesn't my First Amendment right to free expression allow me to upload and download whatever I want?

No. The courts have shown that they regard copyright infringement as theft, not free expression.

Isn't downloading and uploading of digital material protected by the Fair Use clause of copyright law?

No. Fair Use covers the use of copyrighted materials for academic-related activities - teaching, scholarship, research, news reporting, etc. It strictly regulates the nature of the copyrighted material, the specifics of how it is used, the amount that's being used (as a percentage of the whole work), and the effect of such use on the potential market for that material.

Is it illegal for me to share copyrighted files even if I don't charge for them?

Even if you're not making money from the act, it is still illegal for you to distribute material without permission from the copyright holder.

How can I tell when something is copyrighted?

If you get the material legally - by buying an mp3, CD, DVD, etc. - there is usually a copyright mark or warning on it. However, a work doesn't have to have a copyright symbol on it to be protected by law. When in doubt, assume it's copyrighted.

What is the DMCA?

The DMCA is the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998. This legislation was enacted by the U.S. Congress in order to meet the unique challenges to traditional copyright law that were posed by digital media. UVA's policies with regard to notification of digital copyright violators and sanctions on abuse are based on the provisions of the DMCA. You can read more about the DMCA at Wikipedia.

You can find the U.S. Copyright Office's summary of the DMCA at https://www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf.

Can I legally download and share public domain material?

Yes. If the copyright has expired on a work, and it is truly in the public domain, you can copy and distribute it freely. Be careful; just because something is no longer in print and/or being sold doesn't mean it is considered public domain.

How can I remove this peer-to-peer (P2P) application from my computer?

Visit our web page with guidance for removing this risky software: Removing BitTorrent Software

I got a letter from the RIAA saying that I'm distributing copyrighted songs on the Internet, but I only download songs

Why are they accusing me of distributing?  Be aware that P2P software such as BitTorrent not only provide the capability to download files from the Internet, but also to upload files. Although downloading requires deliberate action on the part of the user, uploading can occur without user prompting, unless he or she has turned off the software's file upload feature, which is enabled by default at installation. If you have P2P file sharing software installed on your computer, you should remove it. At the very least, disable the uploading capability. To find out how, visit our webpage on removing P2P applications.

I received a copyright violation notice and I need to delete a copyrighted file from my computer. Where do I find it on my computer?

To look for specific files, Windows users should click on "Start", then "Search", then "Find Files and Folders", and key in the file name. Mac users should click on "Find" from the File menu of the Finder utility. If you need help, you can contact the ITS Help Desk. Details about contacting them are located on ITS Web.

I received a copyright violation complaint, but I haven't downloaded or shared any copyright material. Could my computer be hacked?

It's possible. As discussed elsewhere on this site, peer-to-peer applications carry with them certain security risks.  There have been reported cases of file sharing software being planted on computers by hackers and then used to share copyrighted material on the Internet. However, it's more likely that it happened without you actually asking it to. File sharing software is specifically designed to work unattended when the computer is not busy doing other things. In addition, file sharing programs are designed to both hide themselves and the files they share, so they sometimes delete files after they are shared and are hard to find on the computer. They are often not listed, for example, in the Windows "Add/Delete Programs" list of the control panel. Therefore we strongly recommend you remove the file sharing software from your computer, if you have not already done so. If you need help with this, please consult: Removing BitTorrent Software.  All that said, if you truly believe your computer has been hacked, you should take the following steps:

Disconnect your computer from the University network immediately. Clean your computer of the virus and/or other hacking damage. This will likely require wiping out and rebuilding your operating system and applications. Contact the ITS Help Desk at 434-924-3731 if you need assistance with this.


Be advised that anyone who connects a computer to the University's network is accountable for all actions taken using that computer on the UVA network. University policy requires everyone to keep their computers free of security vulnerabilities. See the University's Acceptable Use of University Information Technology Resources policy (IRM-002) and Responsible Computing Handbook for more information.

I've heard that sharing files from my computer can be a security risk. Is that true?

You bet it can! Running peer-to-peer file sharing applications like BitTorrent can open the door for criminals to gain access to the private contents of your computer or use it to attack other computers on the network. Find out more on our File Sharing webpage.