Complying With HEOA Regulations for Unauthorized File Sharing

Signed into law in 2008, the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) contains provisions ranging from reducing student loan interest costs to student eligibility definitions. Also within the HEOA, several sections address the regulation of illegal distribution of copyrighted material on college and university campuses. Enforcement of these provisions began July 1, 2010, requiring all colleges and universities "to make a good-faith effort at compliance."

According to information from EDUCAUSE, there are three general requirements that schools need to meet:
  • An annual disclosure to students describing copyright law and campus policies related to violating copyright law.
  • A plan to work against the illegal distribution of copyrighted materials on the school's network, including "the use of one or more technology-based deterrents."
  • A plan for alternatives to illegal peer-to-peer file sharing.
Via e-mail, we talked with Jim Lowe, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's chief information security officer, about the University's approach to illegal file sharing and their plans in regards to the HEOA's provisions.

CPM: The Higher Education Opportunity Act put forth a number of provisions, but one which became fully enacted in July puts colleges and universities at the forefront of stopping illegal sharing of copyrighted material on campus. Before HEOA was signed into law in 2008, was peer-to-peer file sharing considered an issue that needed addressed on campus? Why or why not?

Lowe: Yes. The UW-Madison has always promoted awareness about copyright and cooperates with copyright holders who believe that illegal distribution is occurring on University networks. For several years, we have run a continuous education campaign, provided legal alternatives to downloading and sharing copyrighted materials, and promptly engage those individuals accused of illegally distributing copyrighted materials. The HEOA requirements present an opportunity to educate the University community on the value of others' copyrighted material and our intellectual property. Our Website with information about appropriate use is

Examples of past awareness campaigns are:

2004/5 poster:
2005/6 poster:
2007/8 posters:

See also:

CPM: After the HEOA was passed, some schools started to make a good-faith effort to address illegal file sharing. Did UW-Madison come up with a plan or was something already in place?

Lowe: Our plan was already in place. It is documented at

CPM: Now that colleges and universities must work to stop illegal file swapping, what kind of approaches can they take? What options are out there for software or other ways of detecting and stopping this? Is there a different approach for stopping students versus faculty and staff?

Lowe: While there apparently are filtering tools available and used by some institutions, we have found them to be ineffective at best and disruptive at worst. As a Research 1 institution, with over 40,000 students and 15,000 faculty, staff, and researchers, we cannot afford to have network performance degraded. We also do not have the resources to track down ‘"false positives" — individuals whose P2P files appear to be illegally obtained or shared. We have found our publicity and follow-up methods to be effective and less disruptive.

Also, we periodically review our processes and procedures to improve their effectiveness.  This year we will be deploying DMCA-compliant tracking software and keeping records of students who appear to be violating copyright law. We are following an annual three-strike escalation procedure involving the dean of students or appropriate dean/director. Our approach is the same for students, faculty, and staff.

CPM: Besides this being in compliance with the HEOA, what benefit is there for universities and colleges to stopping illegal file swapping on campus?

Lowe: The UW-Madison is a strong proponent of copyright law and other protections for intellectual property rights. We depend on such laws to protect the fruits of our research and teaching activities.