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This past summer, colleges and universities had quite a scare when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed an amendment to a huge higher education bill that would have conditioned financial aid on higher educational institutions employing filtering technology and would have required the Secretary of Education to devise a “bad actors” list of the 25 schools with the highest levels of illegal P2P file sharing based on content industry numbers. After a fierce call to action, the higher ed community and their friends were able to beat back the amendment and get it replaced with another that required only that higher ed institutions advise their students in writing of the legal consequences of file sharing.
We wrote then that we expected the proponents of the harsher language would be back in the House, and indeed they are. On Friday, a massive 747 page spending and financial aid bill was introduced on Friday by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX). Miller is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and Hinojosa is chairman of the higher education subcommittee.
The offending language is slightly different in the new bill, and in some ways it is even more offensive than what was deleted in the Senate. The Reid amendment conditioned funding on higher ed institutions developing “a plan for implementing a technology-based deterrent to prevent the illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property.” The new bill conditions funding on 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.” So although the new bill doesn’t force use of filtering (although you can bet the content industries will come back in a year and say “the time for exploration is over, go ahead and implement filters,”) it does force higher ed institutions to offer content-industry approved services like Ruckus or the new Napster. So not only do universities and colleges have to spend their resources on making plans for filtering their networks (and PK has made very clear its opposition to filters), they have to also implement the content industries’ anointed, but unpopular (either because of digital locks or advertising) music services. All this in the face of mounting evidence that higher ed institutions are far more conscientious about policing their networks for illegal P2P activity on their networks than are consumer broadband service providers.
Equally as appalling as the language is the process by which this bill is being moved along. Introduced on the Friday of a three-day weekend, the bill is set to be “marked up” this Wednesday, November 14 by Rep. Miller’s committee. That does not give opponents very much time to get word to their members, nor does it give much time for their members to speak to their representatives in Congress. When they took over Congress earlier this year, Democrats promised more transparent government and less kowtowing to special interests like the content industries. Actions like this indicate that it may be time to refresh their memories.
You can learn more and contact your Representative by clicking here. Tell them that Hollywood and the recording industry should keep their hands off of colleges and universities and find someone else to pick on (say, like writers?).