MP3 (music/video download) Policy

I. Purpose of Policy

This document is intended for use by any member of the Howard University community who is considering using internet-based resources to access, share, or provide information.

This document contains the policy and procedures for downloading and using music and/or video files in MP3 format on Internet servers maintained by Howard University. The intent is to raise awareness on the illegal usage of MP3 so as to maximize the value of the Internet as a means of communicating with the University's internal and external publics.

II. Campus Policy on MP3

Howard University policy prohibits the distribution of unauthorized MP3's. The University is subject to legislation, and inspection of its servers and sites by such groups as the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). These groups are authorized to act on behalf of their member companies in matters involving the infringement of their sound recordings, including enforcing their copyrights and common law right on the Internet.

Users found distributing or storing MP3's on university servers and shares may be subject to disciplinary action as stated in the University Computer Use Policy. The person could also face criminal charges, state or federal, due to infringing activity on state-owned servers and workstations.

If someone is found liable to copyright infringement, federal law provides for civil remedies that may include substantial monetary payment, injunctive relief and liability for attorney's fee incurred in bringing an action. Criminal penalties may be imposed if someone willfully infringes a copyrighted work, even if no profit is derived from the activity. This type of crime is punishable by up to five years imprisonment, up to $250,000 in fines, or both.

III. General Information

What are MP3's?
The MPEG Layer-3 Audio format, commonly known as MP3 is a file format used for storing sound digitally. These MP3's can be stored on computer hard drives, ZIP disks, some floppy disks, and other storage mediums. The MP3 format is so popular because of its ability to store large sound recordings in extremely small files. Because of their manageable size, MP3's are easily distributed over the Internet.

The MP3 Problem
Unless an individual is the owner of the copyright to the words, the music and the actual performance that is on Cassette Tape, CD, DVD, MP3 (or any other format), he/she will not be able to distribute the product for free, for fun, or for profit. This means loading a music collection onto a computer, and letting others have access to it, is probably illegal.

Music web sites are the latest rage among college students across the country. Many of these music sites have been created by students and made available to the public through their universities' access to the Internet. Most of these sites are also illegal, because they violate federal and/or state copyright laws. The consequences for administering or interacting with these sites can be severe.

On the Internet, copyright laws remain the same. Reproductions or distributions of sound recordings, which have not been authorized by the copyright owner, violate federal and, possibly state law. While there is an exception for copying for personal use onto cassette tapes and some digital media, that exception does not apply to the Internet. This means that, as a general rule, downloading, uploading or otherwise distributing MP3's without authorization is illegal. This law applies even if no profit is derived from the activity.

What is a copyright?
A Copyright is the means for artists, writers, and musicians to protect their work and the profits that might be generated from their work. Copyright laws control the reproduction, distribution, adaptation, and, in some cases, the public display and performance of creative works. These laws are the basis for protecting the ownership of creative works of music, art, and literacy or scholarly work. In other words, copyright law says that the owner of the copyright controls these uses of the work.

In recorded music, copyrights protect songwriters, composers and performers. For any given recording there are at least TWO copyrighted works involved. First, there's the copyright in the musical work (the lyrics and musical notes as they are written on paper). The songwriter or music publisher normally owns this copyright. The second is the copyright in the sound recording (a recording of a performer singing or playing their particular song). This copyright is usually owned by the record company.

The only LEGAL way to reproduce a piece of recorded music -- uploading, downloading, copying from a CD, etc. - is to get permission from the owners of these different copyrights. This is called obtaining a "license".

Rules Associated with MP3's

  • Creating unauthorized MP3 sites by copying sound recordings to a server and/or offering such recordings for download is a violation of copyright law.
  • Creating tapes or CDs of recordings downloaded from the Internet is a violation of copyright law.
  • Offering interactive digital transmissions (such as web pages, FTP sites, etc.) of sound recordings, and in some cases, Web casts requires licensing, but is otherwise illegal.

The RIAA and the Recording Industry
The Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA, is the trade group that represents the companies and people in the recording industry. The RIAA works to protect the intellectual property rights and the First Amendment rights of artists. It conducts consumer, industry and technician research; and monitors, reviews and influences state and federal laws, regulations and policies. The RIAA has been very active in instructing schools and universities in such policy creation. The purpose of the RIAA is to raise awareness that reproducing and distributing music illegally is akin to stealing, and has serious ethical and legal consequences.

The RIAA is committed to getting music to fans while protecting the democratic principles in the new world of changing technology. This is being done through the SOUNDBYTING Campaign, in the education of universities and students about respecting the rights of musicians on the Internet.

Additional Information To find more information and resources on the preceding documentation, feel free to visit RIAA

Appeals regarding any of the guidelines in this policy may be made to the Web Policy Advisory Committee.


IV. Policy Review

This policy will be reviewed as needed, at least annually, by the Web Policy Advisory Committee.