Would Congress Withhold Financial Aid From Colleges That Don't Offer A Subscription To Napster?

from the slippery,-slippery-slopes dept

It looks like the media companies are making good on the strategy they floated in June (and seems to have been mulling since at least March). A relatively well-buried section of this year's amendment and extension of the Higher Education Act places new requirements on schools whose students receive federal student aid — requirements that oblige them to lend Hollywood and the record companies a helping hand in their fight against P2P piracy. Needless to say, this is ridiculous. As Carlo's post argues, there's no reason why schools ought to be conscripted into propping up a troubled industry's business model. As you might expect, the copyfighters are incensed by the idea. Fortunately, it doesn't look like the bill (pdf) is quite as bad as they're making it out to be: though the idea may be detestable, its execution in this case is less-than-complete. An affected institution is only required to "make publicly available to their students and employees the policies and procedures related to the illegal downloading and distribution of copyrighted materials" and to "develop a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property as well as a plan to explore technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity" — and only to do so "to the extent practicable". It sure sounds like these provisions could be easily satisfied: posting regulations and drawing up a plan (but not necessarily implementing it) simply isn't that much of a regulatory burden. Is it a bad idea? Yes. Is it going to result in swarms of penniless scholars trudging, broken-hearted, away from the academy and toward a lifetime of menial toil? It seems unlikely.

Still, it would be a mistake to ignore the inappropriateness of the requirements, or the slipperiness of the slope we're presently on. This is, after all, an industry that's perfected the art of regulatory capture to such an extent that it could now be better described as regulatory taxidermy. If congress can be convinced to repeatedly hand our copyright system over to industry, there's little reason to doubt that it's willing to throw in the education system, too.

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Comments on “Would Congress Withhold Financial Aid From Colleges That Don't Offer A Subscription To Napster?”

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15 Comments
John (user link) says:

Pee 2 Pee

Colleges can’t control or spy on students that use private p2p apps which encrypt exchanges. A lot of these private p2p apps have other uses which go beyond the usual “illegal downloading” and include genuine uses. Students can use private p2p to share class materials with each other, such as essays and homework from previous semesters, or as a means to exchange bulky files (film students won’t have to burn stuff to DVD constantly), etc…etc… One private p2p app which is 100% legal and safe is GigaTribe: http://www.gigatribe.com

W Harvey says:

Maybe so

but Napster stock is up only 2 cents at the open. Besides Napster has gotten out of the student subscription business. Ruckus is ad-supported.

I’ve read the section indicated and it seems to put a lot of research money and grants in the hands of schools (and student researchers). Normally, research predicates growth in business and conversely, if you eliminate research, you choke business.

SteveD says:

Time for tech-dirt to learn a new tune?

I enjoy reading the blog, but it seems lately that every time you write a piece on copyright infringement you back it up with a line like ‘propping up a troubled industry’s business model’.

While I agree with you on this, Tech dirt do seem to be throwing it about a little too freely these days, almost as if its a catch-all justification for filesharing.

A little more variation on analysis would be nice.

Hulser says:

Re: Time for tech-dirt to learn a new tune?

>While I agree with you on this, Tech dirt do seem to be
>throwing it about a little too freely these days, almost
>as if its a catch-all justification for filesharing.
First off, sharing of files is not illegal, therefore it needs no justification. And I know you used the “almost as if” qualifier, but no where in this article, or in any of his articles for that matter, does Mike justify illegal file sharing. If you read Tech Dirt and hear “illegal file sharing is OK” when it never says that, then that’s your problem.

dualboot says:

hmm...

While I agree with the part that schools should post something about copyright laws (which is even debatable… they don’t post all criminal laws at college, yet you’re still expected not to break them), the whole “provide an alternative” idea is going a bit too far. Provide an alternative in what way? Provide a program that students must load on the laptops they use on school property? Load it on the school’s network? I don’t know about other schools, but the two to which I’ve been don’t allow music download programs at all on the school computers… and your documents get wiped out everytime you shut off the computer unless you save them on flash drive. So where, exactly is it appropriate to provide this alternative?

The bigger issue to me: What does this have to do with education? I don’t see any link, other than both have something to do with humans.

This would almost be reversing the policies that many universities have that says that a company cannot come on campus and market themselves. When a wireless carrier set up a booth in the University Center last term, they were given the option of leaving immediately, or dealing with the police, because if they were allowed to stay, it would be like saying the University endorses “x-brand” over others. But if they have to provide an alternative music source, than that would be like saying “we support iTunes over Napster” or vice versa. There are many legal outlets for copyrighted materials, and the government has no place telling a school that they must pick one to provide to their students (or find and provide all of them), when school is not about music. That is like saying that the students going to the school are too stupid to decide whether to do something illegal or not… If they know it’s illegal (which they do), and want to do it anyway, the school providing alternatives is not going to stop the copyright infringer… it’ll just make the school get a false sense of security about what their student population is doing in their free time.

I have alot more on the subject about why it won’t work, and why it’s a waste of time, and why this requirement is entirely inappropriate… but I’m getting irritated just thinking about it… I’ll let the rest of you have at it now.

barrenwaste (profile) says:

Government Whores

Just another instance of the government whoring itself out to the gents with the monetary units. Other than a sentence or two in Government classes this subject shouldn’t even be brought up by the authority figures. I don’t advocate ignoring problems nor turning a blind eye, but the only time this should be brought up is in law classes.

Now, I’m not stupid enough to believe that things like this haven’t been going on for generations, and it has, quite frankly, become a more of our society. If that doesn’t scare everybody shitless, then I don’t know what will. Put some honest to God, whatever god you worship, thought into this for a moment and I’m sure you’ll see why.

Tom Lee (profile) says:

1: As I said, this bill is a bad idea. The case against it can be made on the merits — I don’t think it needs to be overstated. Nor do I find the Democrats’ behavior with respect to the entertainment lobby to be anything less than despicable. One of the biggest problem regarding these issues is that *both* parties are representing corporate rather than consumer interests.

6: If you agree with the point, I’m not sure why you’re insisting that we re-argue it. Anyone who’s paid any attention to the content industry over the last half-decade is acutely aware of the trouble it’s had adapting to the internet age. I don’t see why it’s necessary to endlessly rehash that point.

14: On what basis do you think the RIAA/MPAA will be able to file suits against schools?

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