Follow University Policies

low library and students at night

As a member of the Columbia University community, you are responsible for following the University's policies, as well as local, state, and federal laws. These policies are in place so that all members of the Columbia community can safely and successfully focus on studies and take part in campus life.

Click on a topic below:

It is important that you understand your responsibilities for complying with the University’s policies and federal law on the use of electronic resources, including computers, networks (including the Internet), email, and online information resources, and  the use of copyrighted material on Columbia’s computer systems and network.

The University’s electronic resources and services are for the primary purpose of supporting the University’s mission of education, research, and service. Uses that interfere with or threaten the operation and activities of any part of the University are prohibited, as are uses that violate the law, University policy or the rights of others.

Peer-to-peer file-sharing programs, such as Kazaa and BitTorrent, make it easy to download and share unauthorized copies of music, movies, and other copyrighted worksSuch activity is against the law and exposes you to legal liability. 

To help you use Columbia’s electronic resources and services responsibly, and to help you understand the basics of copyright law, we have summarized some information about copyright law below. More detailed information can be found on the University’s website at

Copyright Law and Policy

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. While there are exceptions under the law that allow copying or distribution of protected works, the use of peer-to-peer software programs to download or upload copyrighted music and movies without permission of the copyright owner would virtually never qualify for an exception. Violations of copyright law are also violations of University policy.


The University does not monitor the network for content. However, it does monitor the volume of use on the network. File sharing generates a high volume of network traffic, and if your computer is generating excessive network traffic, your Internet access will automatically be limited. For information on bandwidth limits, see the University's Network Bandwidth Quota Policy at

Peer-to-Peer File Sharing

Most P2P programs, such as BitTorrent and LimeWire, automatically turn on sharing when installed and run whenever your computer is on. Even if you disable uploading, many P2P programs automatically reset to resume uploading, and copyrighted material in a “shared” folder can be seen by others using the same P2P software. If you have such programs on your computer, you may be violating copyright law without knowing it. Moreover, some content owners, including the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), use the same P2P software to “capture” infringers.

This monitoring by the RIAA has led to numerous lawsuits against students, including many Columbia students. Payments to settle these lawsuits can be substantial.The bottom line is that if you want to ensure compliance with the law, do not install P2P file sharing software on your computer. For more information, see the University Peer-to-Peer File Sharing Policy at  

Legal Alternatives

Keep in mind that there are legal alternatives for downloading copyrighted material. For a list of some of the popular legal alternatives for downloading movies and music and other copyrighted materials, see

Additionally, EDUCAUSE, which you can link to at, maintains an extensive list of legal alternatives for downloading copyrighted materials.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

Under the DMCA, copyright owners file notices of copyright violations with the University, requiring the University to take immediate action to eliminate such violations. If you are implicated in such activity, you will be notified of the allegation and your network access will be terminated until you have (i) removed the infringing material, (ii) taken a short quiz on copyright, and (iii) agreed to comply with copyright law and not engage in, among other things, illegal downloading, storing, and distribution of copyrighted materials.

In the case of repeat infringement, sanctions become more severe, and the University may be required to prohibit you from accessing the University network. For more information on the DMCA, and disciplinary sanctions for copyright infringement, see

Summary of Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws

Copyright infringement constitutes both a violation of University policy and a violation of the law. Under the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), the University is required to inform you of the civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing. Those penalties include the following: Anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or “statutory” damages, which are set at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed. A court also has discretion to assess costs and attorneys’ fees. Willful copyright infringement also can result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense.

Proper use of the University’s electronic services and resources will enhance the quality of the University network and systems and foster a culture of respect for the intellectual property rights of both members of the University community and copyright owners in the larger creative community.

University Copyright Policy

This policy provides guidance on copyright law and its application to the copying of print material for academic use. The primary focus of the statement is on the use of “course packs,” but it also addresses other uses of copyrighted materials for academic use. The policy statement is divided into three parts: It (1) provides general information about copyright law, (2) sets forth the rules for determining whether permission is needed to reproduce written materials, and (3) provides guidance on how to obtain permission when it is needed.

The University Policy site is a key central resource for a broad range of policy topics at Columbia. Included are policies that govern campus safety, attendance, alcohol and drugs, equal opportunity and nondiscrimination, sexual assault, event protocols, partisan political activity, and leaves of absence, as well as the Policy on Access to Student Records under the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974. Essential Policies also contain consumer information for enrolled and prospective students.

You are expected to read and familiarize yourself with the full text of these policies, which are available online.

The University is committed to fostering a healthy and safe environment in which every member of the community can realize her or his fullest potential. As a member of the Columbia University community, it is important that you understand your responsibilities for complying with the University’s policies on sexual and gender-based misconduct.


You are expected to read and familiarize yourself with the full text of the following policies:


Support and Advocacy Resources