Colleges as Copyright Cops?


The House Education and Labor Committee has just passed a bill called the College Opportunity and Affordability Act (COAA) , which could force universities to police copyright infringement (read as: file sharing) by their students and even to offer subscription-based download services like Napster to students to deter P2P use. The copyright provisions are included at section 494, titled "Campus-Based Digital Theft Prevention;” other provisions in the lengthy bill would streamline federal financial aid applications and increase aid to low-income, minority, and veteran/military family students.

The COAA requires universities receiving federal aid 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.” It also allows schools to apply for federal grants to enact technological measures combating illegal downloading. Commentators have predicted dire consequences from the section – that it forces universities to do the RIAA's dirty work , for example. But is it really so dire to require universities to develop a plan? They're not, after all, required to implement the plan. And since the Association of American Universities opposed the inclusion of the copyright provisions, it's not clear the universities will be motivated to move fast on this. Perhaps the real sting of the COAA is not its effect on universities, but rather how clearly it demonstrates that Congress is in the pocket of the content cartels. In a bill that claims to improve access to higher education by increasing federal financial aid, lawmakers are willing to take that aid away when the RIAA and MPAA come a-calling.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Aaron's mad skillz.

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