The EFF blog reports that the House passed H.R. 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act. The act has admirable aims of reducing the cost of higher education, expanding Pell grants and retaining the Upward Bound program. Also attached to the bill is Section 494, “Campus-based Digital Theft Prevention.” It’s explicit aim is the elimination of peer-to-peer file sharing, particularly copyrighted materials. You can get HR 4137 from the House website here in PDF format.
The amendment to the original COA Act is 485(a)(1)(P) is the new subparagraph:
“institutional policies and sanctions related to copyright infringement, including—
(i) an annual disclosure that explicitly informs students that unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject the students to civil and criminal liabilities; a summary of the penalties for violation of Federal copyright laws;
(iii) a description of the institution’s policies with respect to unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, including disciplinary actions that are taken against students who engage in unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials using the institution’s information technology system; and
(iv) a description of actions that the institution takes to prevent and detect unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material on the institution’s information technology system.’’
In order to police digital copyright infringement, all network traffic needs surveillance. There’s not a good way to tell if the movie you are uploading is for a film production class or is an illegal copy of Spiderman 3. What’s that email attachment–an mp3 or photos to your parents? To the network, it’s all zeros and ones and should all be watched for possible infringement.
There are two principal side effects of this policy. One, campus networks and computers are made slower through the analysis of all of their traffic. The policy requires more and faster computers and staff to support itself, hardly intuitive for an “affordability” act. Second, students are put at increasing risk. Not only are they presumed guilty and open to constant internet surveillance, they are risk of a triple threat if caught: academic discipline, civil liabilities and criminal liabilities.
This letter from the American Federation of Musicians speaks in favor of the act, specifically for this amendment. The letter repeats the canard, “Musicians may make music for love, but they also must eat and feed their children.” While true, this does not mean that college students should be condemned to constant internet surveillance, especially when students are responsible for only about 15% of digital theft.
My representative, Carol Shea-Porter co-sponsored the bill (gory details here). My question to her and the many others who supported the bill: how does increased capital cost (computers, infrastructure and buildings to house them) and increased staff costs help reduce the enormous financial burden of higher education?