RIAAWhy am I angry? The new Higher Education Bill (HEA §494) requires that the Universities stop all P2P downloads that RIAA doesn’t like AND buy Napster or Rhapsody subscriptions for every student on the campus or lose all federal financial aid.

I am an IP attorney; I understand copyright laws way too well. I know what RIAA is trying to do here; these tactics are underhanded and really infuriate me.

RIAA has been phenomenally successfully in using the copyright laws to prosecute selected students at various Universities – sort of like a sniper attack on a select few. Now they want to go nuclear – they want to cut off federal financial aid to the University, if the University doesn’t effectively police the P2P downloads.

The massive Higher Education bill is about 750 pages, (or you can view just the relevant Sections 487 and 494 here, if you prefer). The Section 494, titled “CAMPUS-BASED DIGITAL THEFT PREVENTION”, in its simplified version, says the following.

Sec. 494 Each eligible institution participating in the federal aid program shall:

  • provide annual disclosure/warnings to the students applying for or receiving financial aid, stating that:
  • P2P file sharing may subject them to civil and criminal liability;
  • summary of penalty for violation of copyright laws;
  • University’s policy of disciplinary action for using university’s IT for unauthorized downloads; and
  • the actions that the University takes to detect such activities;
  • develop plans for offering alternative to illegal downloading or P2P distribution; and
  • develop plans to deter illegal downloading.

police

Essentially, this means that the Universities will have to become the Copyright cops. Additionally, the Universities will have no choice but to provide some sort of subscription service for music and videos to ALL students. What are the options that are out there? Campus wide Napster or Rhapsody subscription? Either that, or risk risk loosing the financial aid.

What really bothers me is that the copyright holders (essentially RIAA and MPAA) are private parties – why are they being given these extraordinary powers?

Next, MPAA would go to the federal government and say “there are a lot of bootleg copies of movies being sold in downtown LA. In the Highway funding bill, please add an amendment – City of Los Angeles has to provide an alternative to these cheap DVDs, and No more highway funding for LA until they fix the DVD bootlegging problem.” That’s exactly what RIAA and MPAA are doing to the Universities.

This is like Visa going to the University and saying that “a lot of students are not paying their bills on time. Mr. Dean of the University, you have to make sure that nobody is late in their payment, and if they can’t pay on time, you should make the minimum payment on their behalf. And if you don’t, we will take away all financial aid for the University!” How absurd is that!

William Patry, senior Copyright Counsel to Google and the author of highly regarded 7 volume treatises on copyright has this to say:

With these efforts to deprive universities of federal funds, it is difficult to conclude there is a low beyond which content owners will not go. What’s next, an amendment to Sarbanes Oxley that requires the CEO of companies to certify no employee infringes copyright? Or, how about a requirement that before we can receive U.S. mail, each of us has to certify to the Post Office that we don’t infringe copyright?…The concept that the federal government will use coercive force through unrelated laws to enforce the rights of private individuals more than capable of enforcing their own rights is unprecedented, unnecessary, and unprincipled.

Ars Technica has been following this closely. RIAA tried to pull something similar in July when it black listed 25 Universities and colleges and sponsored an amendment to the Education bill that would keep all education funds hostage until the copyright violations were corrected. That amendment died a quiet death.

The Association of American Universities (AAU) has let its displeasure be known. Last week, in a letter to Rep. Miller, AAU urged the legislators to remove the P2P provision (Sec. 494) in the Higher Education bill.

The proposal would mandate a completely inappropriate role for the Secretary of Education to single out individual institutions based on information under the control of the entertainment industry, force institutions to seek an unachievable goal of preventing illegal P2P file sharing, and risk the loss of student aid for countless students innocent of any illegal file sharing activity.

MPAA

I have no issues with RIAA and MPAA aggressively enforcing their rights, but don’t jeopardize financial aid to the University or to a student who has personally done nothing wrong, just because it is convenient for RIAA and MPAA to do so.

The bill is being cosponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) email George.Miller@mail.house.gov, and Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) ( he prefers not to provide his email address, if you want to fill out the form to send online message click here; select Compose own letter at the bottom). His phone number is (202) 225-2531.

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