Office of the General Counsel

Illegal File Sharing and Downloading at UNCW and the DMCA

In October 1998, with the support of the Clinton administration, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The intent of the DMCA is to retrain and eliminate illegal downloads and file sharing - piracy of proprietary content.

The most significant provisions of the DMCA:

  • It is a criminal offense to circumvent anti-piracy measures built into software.
  • Provided they comply with the statutory requirements, Internet Service Providers (ISP's), including universities providing bandwidth, internet, and other electronic services to their faculty, students, and staff, are not susceptible to vicarious infringement exposure due to the activity of their users simply by providing the network transmitting the illegal files.
  • ISP's are liable if they have knowledge of infringing downloads and they fail to remove the infringing material from users' sites.

P2P file sharing and illegal downloading occur in the university environment since the institutions are generally providing users significant bandwidth distribution for research and scholarship. Because the DMCA requires copyright holders to notify UNCW if a student user has illegally downloaded content, students who utilize their computing privileges to misuse the bandwidth provided for illegal downloads and file sharing will face:

  • The termination of their computing privileges;
  • Further university disciplinary action; and/or
  • The very real prospect of criminal prosecution by the notifying holder of copyright.

Sharing and/or downloading copyrighted music, videos, and film is both illegal and against UNCW policy. It is critical that students understand the that the implications of illegal file sharing and downloading are severe, and that they refrain from such activity. The recording and motion picture industries have adopted an increasingly aggressive position in finding and prosecuting individual infringers, particularly in the university setting, for the sole purpose of making an example of impermissible uses and deterring other infringing activities.

A highly recommended alternative is for student users to subscribe to a legal downloading service so they can legally and permissibly download digital media and keep themselves safe from prosecution and/or revocation of their Internet & Computing privileges. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) lists many of their approved music downloading services at the following Web site:

DMCA Procedures:

UNCW has the following procedures in place to deal with students who are in violation of applicable copyright laws:

  • UNCW receives an official complaint about a student's illegal file sharing or downloading from the RIAA, MPAA (Motion Pictures Association of America), or other official organizations.
  • UNCW disables the student's Internet access.
  • The student must meet with the Office of the Dean of Students, discuss the violation and remove the infringing content.
  • Once the student has removed the infringing content and contacted the Office of the Dean of Students, his or her Internet access is reestablished.
  • The student is given a written warning, and a disciplinary record is created.
  • If there is a second violation, the university will seek formal judicial action, and more severe sanctions will apply.
  • A second violation could result in permanent disabling of the student's Internet access, and further University disciplinary action(s).

UNCW expects all users of its system to comply with applicable copyright laws. For more information on our copyright stance, go to: