Piracy Legislation Would Require Colleges To Act

This story was written by Amanda DeBard, Daily Texan
The University of Texas is back in the rankings again, but this time it's for illegal downloads and file-sharing.

The University ranked No. 19 of the top 25 music-pirating schools in the country for the 2006-2007 school year, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 could stop these illegal actions in the future. The provisions were included in the Senate's reauthorization of the Higher Education Act this summer and the House Committee had a chance to mark up the act Wednesday.

No amendments were proposed to the file-sharing section by day's end.

The industry sent more than 14,500 copyright infringement notices during the last school year, which was nearly triple the number of notices it sent during the 2005-2006 school year.

The Committee on Education and Labor said a large share of illegal fire-sharing occurs on college campuses, and it will combat this theft with the affordability act.

The act will require universities to:

* Inform their students about the law and campus policies on copyright infringement and illegal downloading

* Report their campus policies and procedures for addressing violations

* Develop a plan to deter illegal downloading and offer alternatives to it

* Establish a competitive grant program for colleges that want to explore innovative ways of stopping illegal downloading

The grants will be awarded on a competitive basis, but institutions are required to develop policies and a plan regardless of receiving a grant or not, said Elizabeth Esfahani, a spokeswoman for Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, in an e-mail. Hinojosa helped author the affordability act.

There are legal alternatives to file-sharing and downloading music and movies from the Internet. Colleges can subscribe to services such as Napster and Ruckus for students to legally download files, but critics of the act say these services are flawed.

"I don't like the subscription models out now because once you stop subscribing to Napster you lose the music you've already downloaded," said Bryan Murley, innovation director for the Center for Innovation in College Media at Eastern Illinois University. Murley teaches online journalism classes and requires his students to legally download files for class assignments.

UT Chief Information Security Officer Cam Beasley would help implement legal file-sharing policies and programs across campus, but he said the programs can be very expensive.

"Given the size of the University's network environment, it is believed that such a service would be resource intensive and costly for the university to provide, but it really depends on the program," he said in an e-mail. "Prices for paid programs vary, which could be expensive when licensed for campus as a whole and when covering all material students desire."

Though the act will not require universities to subscribe to any particular file-sharing program, campuses must report their policies and penalties on intellectual property theft, according to the Committee on Education and Labor.

"UT will comply with all requirements in the law, and would take into consideration several factors when deciding whether additional measures were necessary [to monitor illegal downloading]," Beasley said.

Murley said he believes it is a problem when the government starts acting as an arm of the recording and motion picture industries. These institutes used to enforce penalties for illegal music and movie downloading, but the approved act will make university personnel responsible for educating students about the laws. However, universities will not be required to enforce the copyright laws.

Critics also say the bill would penalize universities with high nmbers of illegal downloads by withholding federal funding and would report the names of students who illegally download to government officials.

"The bill does not ask colleges to report any cases of student violations, it does not take financial aid away from students or campuses because of illegal file-sharing, and it does not mandate the use of any file-sharing programs by any colleges," said Rachel Racusen, a spokeswoman for the House Education and Labor Committee, in an e-mail.

Anyone caught illegally downloading files or file-sharing could face serious civil or criminal penalties.
© 2007 Daily Texan via U-WIRE