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Remember a little over a year ago when the Senate Commerce Committee distributed its own promotional brochure to gin-up interest in legislation? Well, looks like the House Committee on Education and Labor is taking a page out of the Senate’s handbook. Case in point is this PDF on the recent “The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007” that Gigi blogged-on on Tuesday. The PDF is written and distributed by E&L staff (looking at the Properties of the file leads you to a Press/Outreach Assistant with the committee). A CNet News.com article received the document as a “fact sheet” but wasn’t all that critical of the “facts” that the committee is putting out.
Writing a staff report that summarizes the section of a bill is typical, especially for lengthy bills like this one (750-some pages long). However, when a Committee created document takes a stance on a bill, discusses “myths and facts,” and even goes so far to characterize opponents of sections of language, it's thoroughly inappropriate.
Here are just a few choice pieces of propaganda that this Congressional Committee is putting out about its own bill:
It calls those who oppose the Act “supporters of intellectual property theft”. Amazing that this House Committee is calling those that take issue with a piece of legislation that is very controversial—the very institutions that this Committee financially supports, tantamount to criminals. Just a few names of institutions that wrote letters criticizing the Act’s provisions include: University System of Maryland, Stanford University, Yale University, The Pennsylvania State University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
It says “This illegal file-sharing has exploded in recent years, and a large share of it occurs on college campuses…” and this is certainly suspect. Our friends at EDUCAUSE put it best when they explain:
Campus networks are a small fraction of the copyright infringement problem. The MPAA estimates that 18.4% of copyright infringers are college students and that they are responsible for 44% of revenue lost to copyright infringement. These figures are inaccurate and overstate the case. Yet even by these figures, since less than 20% of college students live on campus and use the residence hall networks, this means that less than 4% of the infringers are using campus networks, and they are responsible for less than 9% of the losses. Over 91% of the claimed losses are on commercial networks. While solving this small part of the problem on campus networks would be desirable, any solutions will be partial, difficult, and expensive, and will only move the problem elsewhere. Campus networks should not be singled out with respect to commercial networks when addressing copyright infringement.
- It says the following is a myth: “H.R. 4137 would force colleges to become copyright cops. ”
Let’s take a closer look at the bill’s language:
Section 494: Campus Based Digital Theft Prevention
(a) IN GENERAL ——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.
Terms like “shall” mean something—especially when not in a vacuum and in a spending bill. Are we to pretend that this section is some sort of “suggestion”? Just because the language is not as bad as it could be, doesn’t mean it’s not more than a first step toward requiring universities to police and filter their networks. Again, from EDUCAUSE:
Most colleges and universities have already considered offering legal, online music or movie services. Their students, however, have often told them they do not want to use or pay for these services because they do not carry musicians that the students want, do not work with Apple iPods, etc. The failure of industry to create and offer attractive downloading services should not lead to a federal solution in which colleges and universities must bear an additional financial burden so that industry can sell more of these services. Today’s technologies to deter copyright infringement on college and university networks are expensive, do not solve the problem, and fail to meet basic requirements identified by higher education community experts in a workshop of the Joint Committee of Higher Education and the Entertainment Community on April 19-20, 2007. Installing deterrent technology now at every campus would require an even larger increase in the cost of higher education.
It’s improper for a Congressional Committee to be putting out propaganda for or against a piece of legislation and calling them “fact sheets.”