Congress Still Considering Copyright Issues in Higher Education Act

Members of the House and Senate are still wrangling over the two different versions of the bills renewing and “updating” the Higher Education Act they passed this session to bring them into harmony so they can send them to the president to sign into law. Remember that the House version includes language that would institutions to plan to install filtering or other technological measures to prevent online copyright infringement; the Senate lacks this language and only requires that institutions inform students of relevant institutional policies.

Recently, two important groups have taken a public stand on this issue and expressed their feelings to our elected officials:

  • About a month ago, the American Council on Education (ACE) sent a pair of letters to the appropriate chairpersons and ranking members (the chairperson is the senior member of the majority party whereas the ranking member if the senior member of the minority party) expressing support for the Senate bill’s language. ACE is the most powerful education lobbying group in the United States and they often act as a coordinating body for other groups; 12 other groups have signed on to these letters, including EDUCAUSE. The letters specifically note that “the House bill would impose new costs and regulatory burdens on both the Department of Education and campuses while doing very little to address the problem” and urge the use of the Senate language of that section of the bill.
  • Yesterday, the U.S. Public Policy Committee of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) – the U.S. public policy arm of “the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society” – sent their own letter to the relevant persons in the Senate and House. Their roots as a scholarly organization are clear in their letter as they focus largely on problems with network filtering, writing that “a Federal
    policy that promotes or requires filtering will indirectly add to the costs of education and
    university research, introduce new security and privacy issues, degrade existing rights under
    copyright, and have little or no lasting impact on infringement of copyrighted works.” Unfortunately, they do not make a very concrete recommendation other than to say that “universities are in the best position to determine how to address infringement.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog is doing a pretty good job covering these events as they occur so it might be worth monitoring it for ongoing coverage. Their coverage is not in-depth but it is timely.

I also note that I can not recall any of the student affairs organizations – NASPA, ACPA, etc. – taking a stand on this issue.  It may be legitimately outside of their bailiwick but I’m not entirely convinced of that given the implications for rising costs of education and the close tie this issue has always had with student discipline.  So I’m a bit disappointed to not see any of these groups sign on to ACE’s letters.  If my memory is too short and these groups have taken an active and public stand that I’ve overlooked or forgotten, please let me know!