We can’t and shouldn’t forget that Representative Ric Keller told us during the March House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property hearing on campus peer-to-peer and “piracy” that “the hammer’s comin’.” Shortly after that hearing, Keller, who is also the senior Republican on the Subcommittee on Higher Education Lifelong Learning & Competitiveness, introduced the Curb Illegal Downloading on College Campuses Act of 2007. It’s clear that at least one member of congress is serious about addressing (and forcing us to address) this issue.
In the closing sentence of their March 12 news story about the the American Council on Education (ACE) noted that “it is possible that further discussion of file sharing on campus will be folded into debate of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act later in the legislative session.” Rumor has it that this may be coming true as the Senate and the House continue to work on the latest incarnation of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Even more foreboding, there may be reconsideration of the current safe harbor protections offered under copyright law; Representative Schiff forcefully and pointedly reminded us in that hearing that Congress wrote the copyright laws and they can change them.
These could be mere rumors. Even if they are true, they have to run a gauntlet through a bitterly partisan congress and make it onto the desk of a president of a different party than the congressional majorities (even though this issue is a bipartisan issue – Keller and Schiff sit on opposite sides of the aisle, for example – making this part of an omnibus bill like the HEA may place it squarely in the domain of partisan politics). We’ve certainly seen enough ineffective action related to the HEA over the past few years to know that it’s far from certain that anything will actually be done. But they appear to be serious this time and getting more serious as the copyright holders continue to press this issue and make our efforts and concerns appear to be hollow. The hammer may be comin’ and it may be buried in the HEA.