Peer-to-Peer in Senate version of Higher Education Reauthorization Act

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has released a copy of their version (warning: 534 page pdf) of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act. There have been rumblings that some legislators may try to insert legislation related to online copyright infringement or even change safe harbor and related laws to force colleges and universities to address online copyright infringement in a manner more pleasing to Congress. That seems much more likely to happen in the House than the Senate.

In any case, the only mention I can find in this very early copy of the proposed bill from the Senate is an amendment to 20 U.S.C. 109. This section requires institutions to “carry out information dissemination activities for prospective and enrolled students” where the specific information is listed in the law. Right now, it includes things like available financial aid, the costs of attending, accreditation status, and campus crimes (the specifics of the campus crime reporting, the Clery Act, is also in this section of the law). The proposed bill would add, among other things, a requirement that institutions notify students about:

“Institutional policies and sanctions related to copyright infringement that informs students that unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material on the institution’s information technology systems, including engaging in unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject students to civil and criminal penalties.”

It’s a bit silly to remind people that “breaking the law is illegal” but a reminder can’t really hurt. This is something that we should all be doing anyway to address this challenge. Much worse things could be inserted into this bill and we should be on the lookout for them, particularly when we start see public action in the House. We’ve got a long way to go before this is even close to becoming a law.