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.

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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.

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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.

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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.