One of the most egregious manifestations of RIAA corporate lobbying has to be the new burdens placed on universities to enforce copyright law. You see, last year, the Department of Education created the Higher Education "Opportunity" Act, amendments to the 1965 Higher Education Act, which sets the guidelines for a university to receive federal financial aid for its students (correct me if I got this wrong). Somehow, skillfully woven into the document, among requirements for federal aid (the same aid that allows most students to attend college), some new, unexpected requirements came forth from the aether. They require that the university:
A) "has institutional policies and sanctions related to copyright infringement and civil and criminal liabilities students may face for unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials which includes unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing and the prohibited use of the institution’s information technology system for those activities"
B)" will, to the extent practicable, offer alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property, as determined by the institution in consultation with the chief technology officer or other designated officer of the institution "
C) "[will regularly provide] a description of
institutional policies and sanctions related to copyright infringement and civil and criminal liabilities students may face for unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials which includes unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing and the prohibited use of the institution’s information technology system for those activities"
D) will aggressively serve DMCA cease-and-desist warnings to students
OK, let's try to set ire and pathos aside for a minute and analyze this like rational human beings.
(A) places a burden on the university's IT department to deploy some tech solution to hunt down those "stealing" from the RIAA and the MPAA, thereby incurring significant cost and become vigilantes. Now some lawyers interpret that (D) can satisfy the requirement in (A). Serving DMCA warnings is nothing new for most universities, but, I can assure you from firsthand experience, the cost is not trival - many large universities can use more than an FTE on this (so figure almost 6 figures per annum, counting benefits). Also, what other industries are required to deploy these tech-based deterrents?
(B) effectively requires that universities, in addition to expending the cost of (A) and (D), look into solutions where we can pay the RIAA and MPAA to borrow their content (note the intentional and accurate use of "borrow"; no one would own it but them). Going this route would have one of two effects: sustaining even more of a financial burden or passing it along to students (as is the case in many new pooled models).
(C) requires us to teach a moral lesson. It reminds me of the debate where Jack Valenti, former head of the MPAA, asked Stanford University, after a student admitted to downloading music, "What are you teaching these kids? What kind of moral platform will sustain this young man in his later life?" (Lessig, Remix). And, what better way to teach morals than side by side with the creators of the DMCA? Seriously, though, give me another example of a case where a university is required to regularly attempt to "teach" students about not committing a crime.
So, let's say you think these clauses are garbage. The cost of noncompliance? The university losing all federal financial aid for its students. That is, taking away access to education for students who need assistance in paying for it.
Give me one good reason why these clauses belong in an act relating to federal funding of education - an act that parades under the moniker of "opportunity."