Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Higher Education Act Reauthorization Requires Colleges to Subsidize Copyright Anti-Piracy Efforts

Higher Education Act Reauthorization Requires Colleges to Subsidize Copyright Anti-Piracy Efforts

By Dennis D. McDonald

If you have recently written a check  to pay college tuition for the coming semester, you will be interested to know that, if Congress has its way, part of the money you spend on college education will now go to subsidize college-based copyright enforcement and anti-piracy efforts.

The new Higher Education Act (HEA) will require, among other things, that colleges are responsible to communicate to students:

“…institutional policies and sanctions related to copyright infringement, including—

(i) an annual disclosure that explicitly informs students that unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject the students to civil and criminal liabilities;

(ii) a summary of the penalties for violation of Federal copyright laws; and

(iii) a description of the institution’s policies with respect to unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, including disciplinary actions that are taken against students who engage in unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials using the institution’s information technology system;

Each institution will also be required to certify that it:

(A) has developed plans to effectively combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including through the use of a variety of technology-based deterrents; and

(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.

William Patry has a good discussion on his blog. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s take is here

This is an example of what I discussed in William Patry Says Goodbye to His Personal Copyright Blog about my disenchantment in recent years with the corruption of copyright law. This time industry has gone beyond its focus on lobbying to protect outmoded business models and promoting investment in anti-consumer technologies such as DRM (digital rights management). This time industry is demanding — with the concurrence of the U.S. Congress — that colleges and universities spend valuable resources on ineffectual anti piracy efforts that would be better spent on education and safety.

Think about how effective educating an incoming freshman about copyright infringement is going to be. Have you ever participated in a New Student event at a large state school where students and parents spend two days in orientations, tours, presentations, speeches, exercises, and demonstrations? These kids already have TONS of stuff thrown at them as they wend their way through a myriad of sessions, booths, and tables demanding their time and attention.

Another example: schools are hardpressed to implement communication practices, procedures, and systems to keep students, staff, and parents informed of emergency situations. Technology and computer networks are key components in these efforts. (I’ve written about some of these in School Communications & Emergency Response: What are the Implications for Social Media?)

Such efforts take time, money, and the attention of the same people that Congress wants to figure out antipiracy solutions and alternative media distribution techniques. Am I the only person who thinks that this is a misplaced priority?

Let me be clear: I don’t want the “chief technology officer or other designated officer” at my daughter’s school, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Virginia, to spend any time figuring out how to promote the authorized sale of music and video files through school controlled networks. I want such valuable resources to be devoted to educating my daughter and making sure she’s safe when she’s on campus. 

Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald

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