Is it legal to download copyrighted materials on my computer?


Yes, If you paid for the materials from a reputable source.   Digital media, such as music, movies, games, books, and applications, can be purchased online from many different marketplaces such as iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. Once purchased, you are permitted to keep a copy of the file for personal use.   Streaming services, such as Netflix and HBOGo provide access to a wide selection of titles for a monthly fee. You may view or listen to this content as long as your subscription is active. 


What is “fair use”, and how does it apply to copyright law?

Fair Use is a legally permissible use of copyrighted material for specific purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching or scholarship. For more information about fair use, see:   http://ogc.harvard.edu/pages/copyright-and-fair-use  .   The best course of action is to get permission from a copyright holder before using their work. If the copyright holder does not agree that your use qualifies as “fair”, legal action can be brought against you.  Downloading and distributing copyrighted materials without authorization from the rights-holder is never an example of fair use.



I have been notified that my computer is sharing copyrighted materials, but I am not aware that I had them on my system or that I was sharing them with others. How can this be?

This occurs when someone other than the owner is using the computer, most often with the owner's permission.  When you give someone access to a computer registered to you, you are taking responsibility for their actions on the Harvard network. Even if they used the computer on another network, they may have left file-sharing software running in the background.  For assistance in de-registering computers you no longer use, checking for background software, and securing your computer from unauthorized use,  please contact your local help desk.  There are many steps that all personal computer owners should take to secure their systems. Harvard University Information Technology has posted a checklist of the most important steps at:  http://huit.harvard.edu/faq?page=4  .    Harvard expects users to take reasonable precautions to secure their personal computers, and individuals may be held responsible for misconduct that occurs from others' use or misuse of their systems.  If you receive a copyright violation notice and suspect that your computer has been compromised, please contact your local help desk or network administrator for assistance.

I have legally obtained copyrighted materials on my computer, but I'm concerned that my computer may be sharing these files with others on the network without my knowledge. What can I do?

A number of peer-to-peer file-sharing applications are configured to enable sharing of files on your system by default. These programs typically scan your computer for selected content, such as video and audio files, and then share these files with others on the Internet. This can violate your privacy and potentially break the law regarding unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works. Many peer-to-peer software packages allow you to disable file sharing, although few explicitly show you how. For assistance with the process of disabling filesharing applications, contact your local desktop or network support group.

How can a copyright holder find out if I have copyrighted materials on my computer?

The most likely way is if the materials are shared on the internet, either through publication to a personal website or file-sharing service. Your Internet activities are not private. When you connect to a file-sharing network, you can be simultaneously downloading and distributing materials. Your IP address identifies you to anyone connected to the same tracker, and they can easily see the files being shared by that IP.Copyright holders search the Internet to determine whether copyrighted material is being illegally distributed. They often search with the same peer-to-peer software (e.g. BitTorrent) used by those who share files. In a sense, they act like any individual looking for a particular file, say a movie. When they find a file, however, they issue a copyright infringement notice to the network provider from which the file was transmitted.

If my computer is found to have copyrighted material, what steps can Harvard take as a result?

When a computer on the Harvard Network is implicated in copyright infringement, the individual responsible for that computer is notified about the notice by the Harvard University IT Security department or the local DMCA liaison and asked to cease and desist immediately from downloading, copying or distributing copyrighted material in violation of the law. Repeat infringements may result in termination of network access and be brought to the attention of the appropriate dean.  In appropriate circumstances, Harvard will terminate the network access of users who are found to have repeatedly infringed the copyrights of others. Schools or departments may pursue disciplinary action as well. Harvard's copyright policy is available here.

If my computer is found to have copyrighted materials, what steps can the copyright holder take against me?

Copyright owners can file civil suits to recover damages and costs. In many cases, statutory damages of up to $30,000, or up to $150,000 for willful infringement, may be awarded even if there is no proof of actual damages. In addition, in certain cases of willful infringement, the government can file criminal charges, which can result in substantial fines and imprisonment. Use of an academic network does not confer immunity from copyright law, nor can Harvard protect its students, faculty, or staff from criminal investigations or lawsuits relating to their personal actions.