BY JULIE ROWE
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 14, 2008
Colleges and universities are expressing concern about a few short paragraphs intended to crack down on illegal file-sharing tucked into an 800-page bill overhauling the 1965 Higher Education Act.
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The U.S. House of Representatives passed the piece of legislation by an overwhelming margin last week despite protests from higher education lobby groups about the provision, which calls for colleges participating in federal student aid programs to develop plans to deter illegal file-sharing and provide legal alternatives.
University officials said it's too early to speculate about what policy adjustments the University would have to make if the bill passes with the provision, but the University already provides some of the services required in the legislation.
Mark Luker, vice president of Educause, a nonprofit group focused on technology use in higher education, said the provision will create "severe problems" for colleges.
"We don't believe that the federal government should be mandating all 4,000 institutions of higher education to spend money on technologies that do not work very well and still don't solve the problem," Luker said.
He said most colleges support requirements to educate students about legal sharing, but oppose being required to develop plans to deter illegal file-sharing.
The Senate's version of a renewal bill included similar language, but the provision was removed at the request of college and university lobbyists.
Mike Waring, the executive director of federal relations in the University's Capitol Hill office, said University officials hope that the provision will be removed during joint conferences between the House and Senate. He said the University doesn't need pressure from the government to crack down on illegal file-sharing.
"We're seeing that there are lots of ways we need to address this problem which we're doing," Waring said. "We're educating students, we're enforcing the law when we find out students have violated the law, we've offered them alternatives and we continue to explore with the industry if there is a technological answer to this problem."
Jack Bernard, the University's assistant general counsel, who handles legal issues surrounding file-sharing at the University, said education efforts will be more effective in stopping students from sharing media illegally than programs meant to police file-sharing.
Bernard said Congress may be targeting college students based on erroneous statistics. He cited the Motion Picture Association of America's admission that it reported incorrect statistics on illegal file-sharing among college students. Claiming a data processing error in an original estimate, the MPAA reported that college students were responsible for 44 percent of total revenue lost because of piracy. The association now estimates that figure is about 15 percent. The MPAA used the original estimate to lobby for the provision of the bill.
Bernard said the work done by colleges to address illegal file-sharing makes the provision redundant and burdensome. He said the University already has programs in place that address the two requirements of the provision in the bill.
The University offers students a legal alternative to file-sharing, called Ruckus, that allows college students to legally access music, television shows and movies for free.
About 4,000 of Ruckus's 1 million registered users are affiliated with the University, according to Chris Lawson, director of corporate development for Ruckus Network.
Both Senate and House versions of the legislation include requirements for colleges to explain to students the consequences of copyright infringement and the school's policy on illegal file-sharing
The University already posts this information on the Information Technology Central Services website and occasionally sends e-mail notifications to students about penalties for copyright infringement.
In October, University Information Technology Central Services launched a system called BAYU - Be Aware You're Uploading - that monitors uploading activity on residence hall networks.
If the system detects that a user is uploading files with a peer-to-peer program, it sends an e-mail message to the student within 10 minutes warning them their activity may be illegal. The system does not determine what is being uploaded or access the uploader's hard drive. Information collected by the program is kept for a week and then destroyed.
Bernard said the program was the first of its kind. Since its launch, University officials have been working with Educause to launch similar programs at other colleges.
ITCS spokesman Alan Levy said the program has reduced the number of files swapped using file-sharing networks on computers in residence hall networks.
Luker said programs designed to restrict file-sharing on campuses are often expensive and ineffective. Students, he said, will be creative and simply find ways around them.
"I think they are good technologies and products, they're just not ready for prime time, yet," Luker said.