August 1, 2007
Last week, Sen. Harry Reid proposed and then withdrew dangerous legislation that threatened to make universities do the entertainment industry’s dirty work and use ineffective, burdensome copyright filtering tools on their networks. The Higher Education Reauthorization Act has now passed the Senate without that language. Thanks to everyone who took the time to call their Senators over the last day.
We won this battle in Congress, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Unfortunately, the RIAA’s college lawsuit campaign rages on, and universities remain under intense pressure to bully their students and install network surveillance technologies. While some schools have implemented draconian penalties for file sharing — including one strike and you’re off the network policies — others have gone further and started blocking certain P2P tools. Meanwhile, Congress has recently been scolding and scrutinizing colleges for file sharing on their networks, and more legislation may be in the pipeline.
Indeed, Sen. Reid still did tack on another amendment that instructs schools to tell students about the possible penalties for copyright infringement. This new language is far less worrisome, but it doesn’t move the ball forward in the P2P dilemma either. While students certainly should know the potential personal consequences of file sharing, all the finger wagging in the world isn’t going to stem the tide of “Internet piracy.”
The longer this futile fight against ordinary fans continues, the more universities’ resources will be wasted, the more legitimate uses of the network will inevitably be chilled, and the more money will be left on the table. After all, tougher enforcement isn’t putting a dime in artists’ pockets, but a sensible alternative like blanket licensing would.
Hopefully, last week’s fight in the Senate will be another reason for the university community to push hard towards a better solution that gets the entertainment industry off schools’ backs, ensures that artists are paid, and lets students keep sharing. For more on this topic, read Fred von Lohmann’s Washington Post editorial, “Copyright Silliness on Campus.”