Students targeted by new file-sharing bill

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Wackbag Staff
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Yale Daily News

Students targeted by new file-sharing bill
Yale General Counsel opposes threat of financial aid cutoff

Published Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Imagine a few students sitting in a common room with their laptops, illegally swapping music and movies on the Internet.

When they are caught, the punishment is swift and harsh. The federal government revokes their federal financial aid — and the aid of every other student at their school — because the university was not doing enough to police illegal downloading.

A major higher education bill proposed in the House on Friday includes requirements that universities must meet in order to be eligible to receive federal money for financial aid — one of which is to develop a plan to fight piracy.

But Yale officials said they think the bill’s requirements are not as extreme as some media outlets reported this weekend, suggesting that universities could lose all their financial aid funding from the federal government if they do not crack down on illegal file sharing. Still, the entertainment industry’s Washington lobbying efforts for inclusion of strict penalties in the bill proved threatening enough to spur the University’s general counsel to co-author a letter last week urging Congress not to persecute universities that are already doing their best to discourage file sharing.

“Such an extraordinarily inappropriate and punitive outcome would result in all students on that campus losing their federal financial aid … [which is] essential to their ability to attend college, advance their education and acquire the skills necessary to compete in the 21st-century economy,” Yale Vice President and General Counsel Dorothy Robinson wrote in a letter that was also signed by the presidents of Stanford, Penn State and the University of Maryland. “Lower income students, those most in need of federal financial aid, would be harmed most,” she wrote.

Under the proposed bill, universities would be required to inform students about their policies on illegal filing sharing, as well as develop a plan for combating peer-to-peer file sharing by offering “alternatives” to students and investigating “technology-based deterrents” to illegal file sharing, like network filters to block illegal downloads.

Robinson’s letter was released last Wednesday, and the House Committee on Education and Labor released the draft of its bill Friday. Since then, the blogosphere has been abuzz with concerns that, under the proposed legislation, students would be deprived of much-needed financial aid because students at their school were nabbed sharing illegal files.

But the text of the bill itself does not appear to include the harshest punishments that the University initially feared, said Richard Jacob, Yale’s associate vice president for federal relations.

“The more draconian option” — cutting off funding to universities that the entertainment industry says have the highest level of illegal file sharing — “is not in the bill,” Jacob said.

The entertainment industry had lobbied for that measure to be included in the law, Robinson wrote. Lobbyists also pushed for the requirement that universities consider “technology-based deterrents,” which did remain in the bill.

That caveat is more worrisome to Yale, Jacob said. Though the University carefully polices illegal downloading by limiting bandwidth and blocking certain ports, the requirement in the bill is vague, and it was not immediately clear Monday whether the University’s current actions would meet that requirement, he said.

The bill suggests that universities should experiment with offering students access to music services like Napster or Ruckus — “alternatives” to illegal downloading — or risk being out of compliance with the bill. That possibility raised particular concern among higher education officials and authors of the letter, who said the music programs do not necessarily work well and could cost hundreds of millions of dollars for colleges to purchase.

The nonprofit organization Educause, an association that promotes the use of technology in higher education, has issued a “call to action” regarding the provision, said the organization’s Vice President Mark Luker.

“The federal government has no business mandating what universities buy their students for entertainment, or to buy products that don’t really work,” Luker said in an interview Monday. “That’s [going to] increase the cost of higher education.”

The loss of federally funded financial aid money would be significant. Yale undergraduates received more than $3.4 million in federal grants and $1.9 million in federal work-study earnings in the 2006-’07 academic year, Chief Financial Aid Officer Caesar Storlazzi said.

Among American universities, more than $75 billion in federal financial aid is given to students annually, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Representatives of the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America were unavailable for comment Monday. But in a statement, MPAA chairman Dan Glickman praised the proposed legislation.

“Intellectual property theft is a worldwide problem that hurts our economy and costs more than 140,000 American jobs every year,” Glickman said. “We are pleased to see that Congress is taking this step to help keep our economy strong by protecting copyrighted material on college campuses.”

The 747-page bill was introduced by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. — chairman of the Education and Labor Committee — and Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas.

A spokesman for the committee could not be reached Monday, when Congressional offices were closed for Veterans Day. The bill is to be examined by committee members this week, Miller and Hinojosa said in a statement.

PCWorld

Bill Cuts Financial Aid if Campus File-Sharing Persists

Universities could lose financial aid for students if they are not able to reduce the amount of illegal file-sharing taking place on their college networks, according to a new education bill introduced into Congress on Friday.

The bill (PDF), under a section titled "Campus-Based Digital Theft Prevention," would require all institutions participating in the financial aid program to take further measures in both displaying and enforcing its policies on illegal downloading.

Specifically, the bill would force universities to "develop a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution" as well as "explore technology-based deterrents" to illegal P2P sharing. Many believe that such "alternatives" could include university-wide subscriptions to services like Napster or Ruckus an ad-supported music service that offers free music to college students.

According to the bill, failure to comply with the recommendation would mean drastic consequences.

In response to the bill, university faculty have written an open letter to the bill's primary sponsor, Congressman George Miller, stating: "…it is our understanding that the consequences of the Secretary deciding that a targeted institution has failed to prevent illegal file sharing would be loss of Title IV student aid eligibility. Such an extraordinarily inappropriate and punitive outcome would result in all students on that campus losing their federal financial aid."

That's right – all students, even those who don't participate
in illegal downloading or own a computer period would be impacted by this bill.

The letter, which was signed by the presidents of Stanford and Penn State, the chancellor of the University of Maryland and the general counsel of Yale, makes the point that universities are already taking measures to reduce illegal fire sharing.

Additionally, universities point out that the proposal applies only to higher-education schools -- "which industry leaders admit are responsible for only a small fraction of illegal file sharing"-- as opposed to other ISPs associated with the problem.

Given the strong opposition, we can only hope that the proposal is struck down for its sweeping punishments before amendments are made to the Higher Education Act. After all, what sense does it make to punish all students for the actions of a few?
 

poopiebottoms

Sparkling Wiggles Lover
Aug 23, 2002
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#2
This is just fucking out of hand. Stripping innocent students of their funding because some douche can't cover their tracks when downloading shitty music is ridiculous.

When are lawmakers and the public going to stand up to these lobbyists for the entertainment industry?
 

kidohio

Registered User
Jan 15, 2005
282
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#4
boy its great to know that our government is more worried about illegal downloading of music rater than oh, the war, health care social security, fuck it im moving to canada
 

HumpX

Character Assassin
Oct 30, 2004
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#5
Just goes to show how much influence some people in the entertainment industry have. These are the same parasite cocksuckers dragging grandmothers into court for downloading heavy metal and not caring that they might have made a mistake with the IP identification. Why should taxpayers have to pay for the policing of some shysters music label?