Higher Ed Act Vote Expected Today

Rumor around the water cooler is that we may see a vote for the Higher Education Reauthorization Act today. The House of Representatives has passed the Higher Education Reauthorization Act with similar action expected of the Senate very soon. We’ve been following this for quite a while with interest focused primarily on the portion of the act that focuses on peer-to-peer file sharing and online copyright infringement. For those who have not been following this bill or this portion of the bill, the version of the bill that has been negotiated between the House and the Senate requires colleges and universities:

  • Educate students
    • Inform them that unlawful online copyright infringement is unlawful
    • Summarize the penalties for violating Federal copyright laws
    • Inform them about the institution’s online copyright infringement policies and disciplinary actions
  • Develop plans to “effectively combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including through the use of a variety of technology-based deterrents”
  • “Offer alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property”

(The precise language can be found in the bill on pages 221-222 and page 237; be warned that this is a long and somewhat large pdf file.)

The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed are both covering this story although their coverage is much broader than focusing on this one issue. William Patry, Google’s Senior Copyright Counsel, has blasted the online copyright infringement portions of this bill and I’m sure that there are others who are doing the same if you poke around; Steve Worona has done so from a particularly privileged viewpoint as EDUCAUSE’s Director of Policy & Networking Programs. EDUCAUSE has signed an ACE letter that fulfills Doug Lederman’s prediction from a few days ago that “groups will spend much of the next day or two carefully wording letters that neither badmouth the legislation (and by extension those members of Congress who crafted it) nor endorse it.”

As noted by Patry, the discussion from the participants in the conference meeting that resolved the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill is very interesting and informative. If you really want to dig into this, the relevant material can be found on page 558 of the relevant report (same document as above, same warning: long and large pdf file). Patry has copied and pasted, with comments and discussion, the relevant material on his blog if you want to avoid digging through the pdf.

It looks like the bill will pass both houses and be made into law so it seems to be time to accept the inevitable and being planning on how work with or around these new laws. It may be worth taking several steps back to view the bill in its entirety as it does appear to do many good things but it’s incredibly disappointing to see once again how money influences and corrupts our legislative processes and participants.

(Updated July 31 at 2151 EST to reflect passage in the House)