A letter to parents about copyright



Dear Parents of Your Freshman Son or Daughter:

Technology, the marketplace and social norms often get ahead of the law, especially in times of rapid change. Internet copyright infringement is a good example. Written in 1976, the current copyright law, which makes anyone who copies and distributes content to which they neither own nor have license, an infringer, is out of step with the contemporary Internet technologies and the facile downloading and sharing capabilities of common devices such as computers, tablets and smart phones. Unfortunately, the statutory damages are also very steep. The most innocent single infringement has a baseline of $750, and if more willfully distributed in large amounts, that number can go as high as $250,000! A few years ago, when the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) sued students, they applied the lower number to a snapshot of the playlists on students’ file share programs, which tallied up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Moreover, the RIAA has won every case of this type that has gone to trial, and had damage awards in the millions held up upon appeal.

Cornell does not want to frighten either parents or our students, but we do want everyone to be aware of the realities. Given legal methods of purchase and streaming such as iTunes and Netflix, fewer people use file-share programs to obtain content. Yet the problem continues to exist as is evidenced by the hundreds of “take-down” notices Cornell University receives every year from content owners related to popular entertainment of songs, movies, television and cable T.V. shows, and increasingly for textbooks and gaming software. Even if you have already had a conversation about this issue with your son or daughter, it is especially important that you remind them of the potential liabilities. Content owners aim their detection systems on campus networks because the “fish in a barrel” combination of our high-speed networks and the demographics of our residential population.

These facts hold most true at the very moment your son or daughter connects to the Cornell network. With so many other things on their mind, they may “forget” to uninstall a program that begins to run automatically, distributing content out to the Internet where it is captured by content owner detection systems. Receiving a “take-down” notice the first week of school is not how we like to see our students begin college, and so we hope that you will remind them to take care of this matter before they arrive on campus.

Below are links to resources that both you and your son or daughter might find useful to learn more about this issue. Before concluding there is some information about the campus Intranet that is equally important to keep in mind. The Intranet is the network that runs throughout our campus. In order to facilitate research, teaching and learning missions, it is very fast and does not cross over to commercial providers. While we maintain a university policy against monitoring content as a practice, we are aware that some students use the Intranet for the purposes of file sharing entertainment materials as well as textbooks, copies of papers, homework assignments and even instructor’s manuals.

Three key points are good to keep in mind. First, contrary to some campus legends, Cornell University does NOT sanction the use of file share systems on its Intranet. Second, it is technologically difficult, but not impossible, for content owners to penetrate this network. No student should be of the belief that they are “safe” from infringement actions when using it.

Third, and very importantly, just because it might be technically easy for a student to access a paper, homework assignment or the answers to tests from instructors’ manuals, easy access is neither an invitation nor an excuse for academic integrity violations. A conversation about both of these issues together might be the best gift you could give your son or daughter as they head off to college!

For more information about copyright law, “take-down” notices, and legal access to content, visit http://www.it.cornell.edu/policies/copyright/index.cfm

For some basics on digital literacy, and its relationship to academic integrity, you might want to visit http://digitalliteracy.cornell.edu/