To P2P or Not to P2P

A section of the College Opportunity and Affordability Act (summary) unanimously approved this week by the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee would require universities and colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs to “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.” In other words, institutions of higher learning subject to the act must offer students subscriptions to music- and other file-sharing sites approved by the recording and motion picture industries and must beef up technological obstacles to such file-sharing, or face consequences. An official from Educause, which represents college network operators, is quoted here saying that “[t]he 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).” On the other hand “[h]ouse 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.””

I’ve not read the draft bill, which is reportedly 700 pages long, so I don’t know the exact language of the anti-piracy provisions. Whatever they say, I question why this committee is seeking to impose on colleges and universities the duty to become what the New York Times referred to as “copyright cops.” This quotation from the assistant director of federal relations of the Association of American Universities captures perfectly my objections to these provisions: “You have the federal government requiring a nonprofit educational institution to develop plans to help a for-profit industry to earn more revenue from their students.”

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