November 15, 2007 2:28 PM PST

Anti-P2P college bill advances in House

WASHINGTON--The U.S. House of Representatives has taken a step toward approving a Hollywood-backed spending bill requiring universities to consider offering "alternatives" and "technology-based deterrents" to illegal peer-to-peer file sharing.

In the House Education and Labor Committee's mammoth College Opportunity and Affordability Act (PDF) lies a tiny section, which dictates universities that participate in federal financial aid programs "shall" devise plans for "alternative" offerings to unlawful downloading, such as subscription-based services, or "technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity." The committee unanimously approved the bill Thursday.

Supporters and opponents of the proposal disagree, however, on what the penalty would be for failure to comply with the new rules. The proposed requirements would be added to a section of existing federal law dealing with federal financial aid.

Some university representatives and fair-use advocates worry that schools run the risk of losing aid for their students if they fail to come up with the required plans.

"The language in the bill appears to be clear that failure to carry out the mandates would make an institution ineligible for participation in at least some part of Title IV (which deals with federal financial aid programs)," Steven Worona, director of policy and networking programs for the group Educause, said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Worona acknowledged that "there does appear to be a great deal of confusion with respect to what penalties would be involved in not carrying out the mandates in this bill." Still, Educause, which represents college and university network operators, continues to "strongly oppose these mandates," he said.

House committee aides respond that failure to craft those antipiracy plans would not imperil financial aid awards. A fact sheet distributed by the committee this week attempts to dispel "myths" that it argues are being circulated by "supporters of intellectual property theft."

"Lower-income students, those most in need of federal financial aid, would be harmed most under the entertainment industry's proposal."
--Association of American Universities

"The provisions do ask colleges, to the extent practicable, to develop plans for offering students alternative legal ways to file share, as well as plans to prevent file sharing, but this would not be included in the financial aid program participation agreements colleges enter into with the U.S. Department of Education," committee spokeswoman Rachel Racusen told CNET News.com in an e-mail after Thursday's vote. "Contrary to what critics are saying, these provisions would not put students or colleges at risk for losing financial aid."

Nor would the bill strip away financial aid if schools fail to stop piracy on their campuses, to sign up for "legal" subscription media services like Ruckus.com and Napster for their student body, to report student violations, or to implement any specific antipiracy policies, Racusen said.

The only piracy-related information that schools would have to provide to their students and employees in conjunction with their financial aid agreements is a description of "the policies and procedures related to the illegal downloading and distribution of copyrighted materials," Racusen said.

If institutions fail to heed the new rules, it would be up to the Department of Education to decide the consequences, a committee aide said. For related reporting requirements, such as school safety plans, that has typically involved simply keeping after universities to provide the mandated information, the aide added.

That reporting requirement was also the core of an amendment offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and approved this summer as part of his chamber's counterpart higher education bill. University representatives have called that provision a "reasonable compromise."

But in an earlier draft of that amendment, Reid also wanted to require the Secretary of Education to devise a list of the 25 schools with the highest levels of illegal peer-to-peer file sharing, based on entertainment industry statistics. For those 25 institutions, their financial aid would have been conditioned on devising "a plan for implementing a technology-based deterrent to prevent the illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property," according to university groups that opposed the measure.

That means the House provision, by expanding that requirement to all schools, not just the 25 on the watch-list, is seemingly broader than the original Senate amendment, according to Educause's Worona. After an outcry from universities, Reid ultimately scrapped that idea.

Opponents question fairness, privacy issues
The Association of American Universities wrote a letter to House committee leaders last week urging them not to revive that idea in their own forthcoming higher education bill. The letter was signed by the chancellor of the University of Maryland system, the president of Stanford University, the general counsel of Yale University, and the president of Pennsylvania State University.

"Such an extraordinarily inappropriate and punitive outcome would result in all students on that campus losing their federal financial aid--including Pell grants and student loans that are essential to their ability to attend college, advance their education, and acquire the skills necessary to compete in the 21st-century economy," they wrote last week. "Lower-income students, those most in need of federal financial aid, would be harmed most under the entertainment industry's proposal."

An AAU spokesman said Thursday that his organization still has concerns about the final provision in the approved House bill but declined to elaborate, indicating the group is prioritizing other areas of the bill that cause schools greater heartburn.

Other opponents of the antipiracy provisions argue that merely requiring such a plan from universities at all, regardless of the penalties involved, is misguided. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for instance, argued that pressuring schools to strike deals with content providers could indirectly raise the cost of students' tuition, as schools will inevitably pass the costs of legal download services on to students in some fashion.

Another concern from opponents is the possibility of privacy invasions brought on by the technology-based deterrents schools would be encouraged--albeit not explicitly required--to adopt. In addition to the "plan" requirement, one section of the bill would offer voluntary grants over the next five years for schools, in partnership with outside organizations, to use toward efforts to concoct effective, reasonably priced antipiracy technology tools. Opponents argue those tools amount to spying on students' network activities.

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a group that advocates for preservation of fair-use rights, said she doesn't buy the committee's arguments that no penalties will arise if universities don't develop antipiracy plans.

"If it had no teeth, (the Motion Picture Association of America) would be criticizing it," she said in a telephone interview.

The MPAA, for its part, has heartily endorsed the provisions, with CEO Dan Glickman saying in a statement upon the bill's introduction: "We are pleased to see that Congress is taking this step to help keep our economy strong by protecting copyrighted material on college campuses."

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12 comments

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HAW!
Man this really is getting crazy. At least the government can relish in the fact that the majority of us are arm chair protestors and don't have the stamina to stop them anymore. Maybe this will encourage more people to vote at least.
Posted by chuchucuhi (233 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It shouldn't be a shock
It's universally accepted fact that the president is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but you have to wonder if Congress is just stupid or corrupt. What a ridiculous piece of legislation. Why should colleges be forced to be police for one relatively small industry? Why isn't congress passing laws that force auto manufacturers to pay for security guards to cut down on shoplifting? After all, most shoplifters leave the store in cars. why isn't congress creating laws that hold the phone companies liable for all the crimes that are planned and committed over the phone?

The House minority leader (Bohner) once said that Congress couldn't do their jobs without lobbyists. I guess he meant that they aren't stupid enough to think of stuff like this on their own.
Posted by kgsbca (185 comments )
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Ron Paul will not vote for this, so you should vote for him!
There's no wonder so many net users like Ron Paul, he's completely
against any government regulation of the Internet.

If you don't know who Ron Paul is, Google him.
Posted by MyRightEye (1284 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ron Paul = Snakes on a plane
Remember all the hype and the input accepted from the online community for that movie....then none of them paid to see it.
Posted by chonnom (88 comments )
Link Flag
Snake oil salesman
Ron Paul is either a nutcase or a snake oil salesman. He is no friend of higher education or the internet. Please keep in mind that Ron Paul is wants to abolishing financial aid to students as well; your point is moot since he doesn't believe the government should be funding it in the first place. He doesn't believe in any of that "welfare" crap. I guess dumb students who can't afford thousands of dollars a year in tuition should find a way to make that money on minimum wage or since they don't have wealthy parents just accept their lot in life as part of the lower classes.

Ron Paul is against net neutrality and supports Big Business being in absolute control of the internet. I don't want AT&T controlling how fast my browser loads (or whether at all) based on whether the web site has paid them access fees.

This is why to support real freedom and equality Americans need an honest, accountable government that works for the good of the public. Right now we have a corrupt corporate state. The alternative to bad government is good government, not the simplistic Ron Paul solution of getting rid of it and instead putting Big Business in charge.
Posted by jdbwar07 (150 comments )
Link Flag
They are not worried
The Dems are not worried. They know the vast majority of
college professors, staff and students vote Democratic.
Therefore, they get to pay off their big contributors in the media
industry, they don't worry about losing any votes for it, and the
colleges get the shakedown by the media industry.

Anytime a political party can take any group for granted, college
faculty, evangelicals, a minority, NRA, unions, etc then the
group should expect to get exploited.
Posted by georgiarat (254 comments )
Reply Link Flag
NO Government
The government needs to stay the heck out of this!!! Only the college should have the right to bar a persons funds and take the appropriate disciplinary actions. Come on people our government was NOT designed to make policy for colleges.
Posted by tombpsyco (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Right...
If there are no implications for Financial Aid if colleges do not comply then why are they mandating that these notices be included in students' Financial Aid documents? The stupidity of this legislation boggles the mind, but it will still pass because they slipped this RIAA/MPAA handout in under the radar and it is not receiving the amount of coverage it should be.
Posted by bschmidt25 (81 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RELAX - Bill will not pass in current form
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h110-4137" target="_newWindow">http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h110-4137</a>

This bill (actually an amendment to a much older piece of legislation) is only in the idea stage and will likely be substantially changed before it can be voted out of committee.
One clue that it isn't going anywhere yet is that it has 1 cosponsor. Bills with only one cosponsor usually never get out of committee, let alone become law.
Posted by Arbalest05 (83 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bill has passed committee
Just to clarify, this bill has already been unanimously approved by the House Education and Labor Committee, which was the reason for this story in the first place. The number of cosponsors isn't so significant in this case because it's sponsored by two prominent committee chairmen. You're right, though, that the language is not final: It could still undergo further changes on the House floor, which is what happened with the Senate version after universities raised a fuss.
Posted by AnneBroache (17 comments )
Link Flag
Hold on...
I understand that stealing copyrighted material is WRONG and AGAINST THE LAW.

I don't understand why Congress feels it's the job of an educational institution to babysit students.

Not all students live on campus. Will Congress be contacting their landlords to ask for their compliance? How about the students who live at home?

Why is Congress involved in this at all beyond dictating the laws and penalties aimed at stopping this? Why are colleges and universities being held hostage to do something about this?

If this were to pass, I don't believe that individual students won't suffer. And if it's students that have done nothing wrong, that makes this more of a travesty of justice than downloading any copyrighted material.

Charles R. Whealton
Charles Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Another waste of time and taxpayer money
What use is legislation without the teeth to back it up? NONE! Why are they wasting their time and our money on this?
Posted by Jim Harmon (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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