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UC Merced Copyright Policies and Guidance

The University of California, Merced is committed to upholding U.S. copyright law. The following information summarizes various laws, policies, procedures and guidance for faculty, staff and students.

The University does not monitor its networks for the purpose of discovering illegal activity. However, the University pursues a set of ongoing initiatives to ensure that copyright, particularly as it applies to digital assets, is respected within the UC Merced community. The University’s Electronic Communications Policy (ECP) prohibits the use of University computers, networks, or other resources for the purpose of illegally sharing copyrighted works. It specifically prohibits use of electronic communications resources for unlawful activities (ECP Section III.D.3).

Allowable Use
The contents of all electronic communications shall conform to laws and University policies regarding protection of intellectual property, including laws and policies regarding copyright, patents, and trademarks. When the content and distribution of an electronic communication would exceed fair use as defined by the federal Copyright Act of 1976, users of University electronic communications resources shall secure appropriate permission to distribute protected material in any form, including text, photographic images, audio, video, graphic illustrations, and computer software. (ECP Section III. D.10)

Violations of Law and Policy
University policy prohibits the use of University property for illegal purposes and for purposes not in support of the mission of the University. If someone infringes — even unwittingly — they can be subject to civil damages and criminal penalties. Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under section 106 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code). These rights include the right to reproduce or distribute a copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority constitutes an infringement.

Penalties for copyright infringement include civil and criminal penalties. In general, anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or “statutory” damages affixed at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed. For “willful” infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed. A court can, in its discretion, also assess costs and attorneys’ fees. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504, 505.  Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense. For more information, please see the website of the U.S. Copyright Office at

In addition to legal sanctions, violators of this Policy may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal or expulsion, pursuant to University policies and collective bargaining agreements. (ECP Section II.E.2.)

Access Restriction
In compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the University reserves the right to suspend or terminate use of University electronic communications systems and services by any user who repeatedly violates copyright law. (ECP Section III.E.)

Student Conduct Policy
Under the University-wide policy on Student Conduct and Discipline (PACAOS), illegal file-sharing of copyrighted materials is a violation that may be grounds for discipline.

  • Chancellors may impose discipline for the commission or attempted commission…of the following types of violations…. (PACAOS Section 102)
    • Abuses include (but are not limited to) unauthorized entry, use, transfer, or tampering with the communications of others; interference with the work of others and with the operations of computer and electronic communications facilities, systems, and services; or copyright infringement (for example, the illegal file-sharing of copyrighted materials). (PACAOS Section 102.5)
  • Peer-to-peer sharing of copyrighted materials is illegal. File-sharing and peer-to-peer software programs (such as uTorrent, BitTorrent, and others) are not in themselves illegal, but what is shared and how it is shared may be. When copies of copyrighted works are uploaded or distributed, or when unlicensed copies of copyrighted works are downloaded or acquired, someone else’s rights may be being infringed upon.
  • Copyright holders and their representatives vigorously protect their interests. There is little the University can do to protect individuals accused of copyright infringement once they are identified. If a student infringes — even unwittingly — they may be subject to civil damages and criminal penalties.
  • Students receiving notices alleging infringement trigger the student conduct process for potential violations of UC Merced’s Student Conduct Code, and sanctioning by the Office of Student Conduct occurs where appropriate. Students found responsible for a second infringement may receive a form of suspension, either deferred or imposed, from the University.
  • Information about UC Merced’s copyright policies, legal alternatives, the student judicial process and copyright laws is available on the Library website

Additional Information
The websites listed below link to pertinent UC policies and provide explanatory information about those policies as well as US copyright law.