Sunday, January 20, 2008

[Higher Education] US Education Funding Bill Contains Crappy Copyright Clause

Found at Slashdot, but the main points are covered best at EFF:

Last November, we reported on H.R. 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, which includes misguided anti-piracy requirements for universities. For the most part, the massive, nearly 800-page bill refreshes existing legislation about federal financial aid. But the bill also includes a section with a title that sounds as if it were dreamt up by an entertainment industry lobbyist: "Campus-based Digital Theft Prevention." Specifically, the bill says:

Each eligible institution participating in any program under this title shall to the extent practicable—


(2) 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.
To those unfamiliar with this particular sort of DC double-speak, "alternatives to illegal downloading" means industry-sanctioned download services; and existing "technology-based deterrents" means network filters and other tools.

These congressional requirements will turn out to be expensive dead-ends -- the industry-sanctioned online music services are laden with DRM, and network detection/filtering programs present privacy risks and are inevitably rendered obsolete by technological countermeasures.

Advocates of the bill stress that the language stops short of demanding implementation -- that it only requires universities to "plan" -- but this argument misses the point entirely. The passage of this bill will unambiguously lead universities down the wrong path. For the sake of artists, administrators, students, and consumers better approaches exist.

The bill also would hang an unspoken threat over the heads of university administrators. In response to concerns that potential penalties for universities could include a loss of federal student aid funding, the MPAA's top lawyer in Washington said that federal funds should be at risk when copyright infringement happens on campus networks. Moreover, earlier versions of "Campus-based Digital Theft Prevention" proposals nakedly sought to make schools that received numerous copyright infringement notices subject to review by the US Secretary of Education.

This is bad.

The cynic in me thinks that passage of this (and the subsequent trend of universities coming down hard on 'piracy') would actually get students to pay attention and collectively raise their voice in protest.


Nah, never mind. There might be a few, but students who enter college under such conditions would just accept it as the status quo.

One last note, from a link found at the EFF story:

"When the government is subsidizing universities...and it discovers that those universities are spending a lot of taxpayers' money to build digital networks that are being used primarily to allow college students to traffic in infringing content, I think it's perfectly legitimate for Congress to say, wait a minute, if we're giving you money, we don't want it to be used to help college kids infringe copyright," [MPAA Washington General Counsel Fritz] Attaway said during a panel discussion here Monday that was organized by the Federal Communications Bar Association.

I'm going to treat his statement with a seriousness it really doesn't deserve and suggest that he gets it wrong when he says university networks are "primarily" for illegal file-sharing. Remove that clause, and you're left with policing departmental email for folks who want to sell used toasters.


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