Latest Attempt at Higher Ed P2P Legislation: This Time It’s the Democrats

On Friday, House Democrats introduced “The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007.” Ostensibly intended to “address the soaring price of college” and “ensure [that colleges and universities] operate in the best interests of students and families,” the bill includes the worst provision yet regarding peer-to-peer filesharing. Unlike previous attempts that would have only required the “worst” institutions to adopt technological tools to address and prevent P2P filesharing, this legislation would require that all institutions that receive federal financial aid “develop a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property as well as a plan to explore technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity.” Unless I am misunderstanding this proposed law, it appears to be a blatant attempt to force all colleges and universities to pay a fee to the RIAA, MPAA, and others by requiring us to sign up for a service such as Napster or Ruckus (which, I know, is currently free; think that would last long if everyone were required by federal law to sign up to it?).

Other coverage of this proposed bill:

  • The Chronicle of Higher Education includes praise for this misguided initiative by the MPAA (“a positive step in educating students and deterring illegal downloads and file sharing on college campuses”) and condemnation by EDUCAUSE (“we’re raising the cost of higher education by government mandate in order to transfer more dollars to the entertainment industry”).
  • Inside Higher Ed’s coverage expands on the EDUCAUSE position by quoting them as saying that “Campuses that offer legal downloading services typically must charge a student fee to cover the expense. Taken across all campuses, this practice could represent a transfer of over $400 million annually from higher education to the entertainment industry while raising the cost of higher education.” Although it’s getting a bit old, our research into online entertainment services confirms part of that assertion.
  • One of the most damning criticisms of this proposed legislation comes from William Patry, Google’s copyright counsel and one of the country’s leaders in copyright law. Patry asserts that “it is disturbing for the federal government to require educators to be policing enforcement issues for private companies on pain of loss of federal funds.”
  • From the technology press come reports from Ars Technica, CNET, Campus Technology, and Daily Tech. In the CNET article, the reporters note that the MPAA has stated that institutions that employ technology to prevent P2P filesharing have experienced significant reductions in copyright complaints, “in some cases going from 50 a month to none.” Once again, I caution that the number of copyright complaints is not an indication of copyright infringement but an indicator of the copyright holder’s willingness to file a complaint as he or she is perfectly free to ignore infringements. Thus the MPAA’s assertion carries little weight unless the measure of success is “we’ll leave you alone – for now” instead of the actual reduction copyright infringement or change in students’ attitudes and actions.

The entire 747-page bill can be found here (1.2 MB pdf) for those who want to peruse it in all of its glory. It’s scheduled to be marked up in committee tomorrow (Wednesday). In addition to sending its own letter to members of the House, EDUCAUSE has once again called on its members to oppose this legislation by contacting legislators.

This is quite depressing. So let’s not discuss the other stupid P2P legislation recently introduced by a small bipartisan group of senators. Luckily, the “Pirate Act” appears to have little chance of passing as even the Justice Department doesn’t seem to be enthusiastic about this attempt to expand their workload to protect private interests.