Campus Media Piracy
College is a time for many teens and young adults to revel in their independence. The first taste of life as an adult can be heady, but sometimes it can lead to making impulsive mistakes. Many of us have downloaded “free” movies, music, computer programs, and other media from the internet. If you can find it online, it must be OK, right? In fact, you or your teens may have been doing this at home before heading off to Temple University, Penn State, or the University of Pennsylvania.
But college campuses are much more likely to scrutinize what their students are doing online closely. Research has shown that many young adults don't see media piracy as theft. But after many highly publicized civil suits and prosecutions of people illegally downloading media beginning in the early 2000s, colleges now watch for illegal downloading from students using their networks. If caught, you can face criminal penalties and big fines. But it doesn't end there. You can also find yourself the subject of a student disciplinary proceeding with the possibility of suspension or expulsion. To protect your rights, you need the premier Pennsylvania student discipline and criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento. Attorney Lento and his experienced team at the Lento Law Firm can help protect your reputation and rights in both the criminal justice system and your school's student disciplinary system.
Crime Detection on Pennsylvania Campuses
Your online activity is more closely monitored than you might think. Your college or university monitors your online activity to:
- Ensure Safety: The school can identify potential school-wide threats, including bullying, violence, or the intent for a student to harm themselves,
- Community Concerns: A college can manage threats to the community proactively during a time of crisis or afterward,
- Compliance: Monitoring online activity allows schools to ensure students don't access inappropriate materials and comply with federal and state laws.
When you access the internet at school or your school's network, whether in an academic classroom, the library, a dorm, or at home working remotely, your college or university is watching. If you're using a school-issued device, the monitoring is probably even more intense, and it isn't limited to your college or university. Third-party corporations also monitor peer-to-peer sharing sites on behalf of clients such as Taylor Swift, Disney, and others to track illegally downloaded music, movies, and other media piracy. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) also constantly monitor downloads and websites for copyright violations. These organizations notify people who illegally download content, notifying them of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and seeking monetary settlements. When these companies detect illegal downloads on university networks, they notify the university of the infraction.
Under the law, your university or college must remove and disable the material as part of the DMCA's “notice and takedown” procedures when it receives notice of a DMCA violation. Your college will notify you of the violation, and then it will typically place your computer on a restricted network and refer you for disciplinary proceedings. You can also face criminal charges if you try to circumvent copyright controls. But you don't have to face criminal charges or a school investigation for media piracy alone. You need an experienced criminal defense lawyer who is also skilled in defending students in school disciplinary actions, like Joseph D. Lento.
Federal Media Piracy Crimes
Illegal downloading of copyrighted material is typically a violation of federal copyright law. Under U.S. law, the copyright holder has the exclusive right to distribute and sell the copyrighted work to consumers. It is illegal for you to:
- Download any copyrighted material, including movies, music, programs, and games, from an online forum or website,
- Email or send copyrighted materials to other people, or
- Post copyrighted materials online for others to view or download.
Copyright violations are some of the most frequently committed federal crimes. But if you violate federal copyright law, you can face federal criminal charges and fines of $750 to $30,000 for each downloaded item. For the first violation of federal copyright law, you can get up to five years in prison and ten years for repeat offenders. The copyright holder can also sue you for damages. These fines can add up fast. If you illegally download 20 songs from the internet and face a fine of $10,000 for each, you could face a $200,000 fine.
Media Piracy Crimes on Pennsylvania College Campuses
Pennsylvania colleges and universities take media piracy seriously. For example, in this excerpt from an email sent to the entire Penn State Community nearly 20 years ago, the administration warned students of the seriousness of the crime and the repercussions they could face on and off campus:
The US Copyright Law (Title 17 of the US Code) has very serious penalties for violations. These include significant fines for each copy. If you copy more than $1,000 worth of material, there are criminal penalties that include substantial fines of up to $250,000 and up to 10 years prison time for flagrant cases of infringement. […]
What happens at Penn State if you are caught? By statute, the University must immediately block your network access when we receive notification that a particular computer has been involved in a violation of the law. You may also be taken to court by the copyright holder or charged in the federal courts with a crime. That is not all that can happen. You should know that falsely certifying either that you have the right to material or have removed it can result in federal perjury charges as well as copyright infringement.
What else does Penn State do? When we receive a complaint, student offenders are referred to the Office of Judicial Affairs and employees to the Office of Human Resources. Why? Because it is illegal and against University policy to infringe on someone's copyright. A student can be expelled and an employee terminated under University policy.
The University of Pittsburgh's Copyright Protection and Illegal File Sharing Policy also warns students of federal law and the potential financial and criminal consequences of violating the law:
It is against University policy for any student, faculty, or staff member to copy, reproduce, or distribute any software, music, games, or movies, or any other copyrighted work, on University computing equipment except as expressly permitted by a license agreement or with the written consent of the copyright holder or as otherwise permitted under federal law. Willful infringement may subject a student, faculty, or staff member to University discipline and may impact the privilege to use information technology resources at the University.
Because of the stiff federal penalties for media piracy, your college or university will take violations seriously because they must avoid university liability under federal law. You can be sure that your college will monitor and enforce federal copyright law.
Media Piracy and Violations of Copyright Law
Illegal downloading can violate several federal laws, but the most common charges you could face fall under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which amended Section 17 of the United States Code. You can violate the DMCA with the “unauthorized reproduction or distribution,” of copyrighted works. If the reproduction or distribution involves a retail value of more than $2,500 in 18 months, you can face up to 5 years in prison and fines up to $250,000. 17 U.S.C. § 506 (2008).
Section 1201 of the DMCA also prohibits devices or services designed to circumvent copyright controls that are marketed as such and have a limited commercial purpose aside from circumventing copyright. Violating copyright controls includes things such as:
- Removing watermarks from photographs,
- Bypassing digital rights management to download a game, movie, or music,
- Distributing products or services used to circumvent copyright controls,
17 U.S.C. § 1201 (1999). Circumventing controls might include decrypting an encrypted work, such as an eBook that you haven't purchased the right to read. Criminal penalties for even first-time offenders can include up to five years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines. You can also face a civil lawsuit and damages under the DMCA. See 17 U.S.C. § 501 (2019)
Defending Media Piracy Criminal Charges
If you're facing federal charges for media piracy, this isn't something you can handle on your own. You need a skilled criminal defense attorney with plenty of experience defending criminal charges in federal court. But in addition to the defense of a seasoned attorney, you also need someone who understands the impact that this criminal case can have on a possible student disciplinary action at your college or university. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense and student discipline attorney advisor. Attorney Lento has defended hundreds of students like you across the country, guiding them through the criminal justice system and the college student disciplinary system.
Pennsylvania College and University Media Piracy Policies
Whether a student's actions violate state or federal law, many Pennsylvania college and university policies address media piracy and set forth serious consequences. For example, Temple University's Peer-to-Peer File Sharing Policy prohibits students from using “Temple University's computer network to illegally download or share copyrighted materials, including music, games, and videos.” Violating university policy, the student code of conduct, or federal or state law can result in the student's referral to the university's disciplinary process.
Penn State's policies are similar. The university's Acceptable Use of University Resources Policy expressly addresses media piracy and actions that will violate it. Students may not use “Penn State information technology resources to upload, download or distribute copyrighted or illegal material which results in violation of law.” The policy also makes it clear that any student violating this policy will face school disciplinary proceedings:
Faculty, staff, or students who violate this policy and supplemental IT Guidelines and Standards may be subject to appropriate disciplinary action, specifically including suspension or termination of access and/or network privileges.
Pennsylvania Campus Disciplinary Procedures
If you're facing federal charges related to media piracy, your college or university may also initiate disciplinary actions against you for violating the school's policies regarding using the school's resources and media piracy. But the school's disciplinary process will not follow the same criminal procedure, afford you the same rights, or depend on a guilty verdict in court. Your university may proceed against you according to the school's published disciplinary procedures even if the criminal justice system finds you not guilty or you enter into a plea agreement. But it's a mistake to think that your school's action against you will have less of an impact on your life. Your school could suspend or even expel you, cutting off your education and marking your academic record permanently.
An experienced student discipline and criminal attorney like Joseph D. Lento can use your school's disciplinary procedures as part of your strategic defense. For example, the University of Pennsylvania's Student Disciplinary System allows your attorney advisor to:
- Resolve a complaint through informal mediation under a mediation agreement if the school agrees,
- Negotiating a voluntary agreement to sanctions on favorable terms,
- Reviewing the complaint against you, responding, and evaluating the evidence cited against you,
- Objecting to biased disciplinary hearing panel members,
- Ensuring the school shares all the relevant exculpatory and incriminating evidence against you promptly, as well as all witnesses the school expects to utilize in your hearing,
- Attending the hearing as your attorney advisor, assisting in the presentation of evidence, cross-examining the school's witnesses, and
- Invoking your right to appeal a disciplinary hearing decision promptly, based on “material and prejudicial procedural error in the conduct of hearings, error in the interpretation or application of relevant University regulations, [or] consideration of new evidence sufficient to alter the Hearing Panel's findings or severity of the recommended sanctions.”
Hire an Experienced Criminal and Student Discipline Defense Lawyer
If you or your student is facing criminal charges for media piracy, you need a skilled criminal defense attorney who is also well-versed in student disciplinary matters in Pennsylvania. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the skilled team at the Lento Law Firm have been protecting the rights of students and defendants in Pennsylvania courtrooms and universities for years. Find out how they can help you too. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation, or contact them online today.