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New Bill Links Filesharing to Financial Aid

November 12, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

It’s been a theme among California Democrats: illegal peer-to-peer file sharing hurts business in Hollywood and someone must be forced up to the plate to stop it. They have introduced several bills into this session of Congress to assign the responsibility of policing copyrights to one industry or another. The latest of these proposals, introduced by Representative George Miller (D-CA), would pass the burden on to colleges and universities, and, according to the bill, if they don’t do a good enough job enforcing the bill’s policies, the government will terminate all federal financial aid.

CNet News reports:

>The U.S. House of Representatives bill, which was introduced late Friday by top Democratic politicians, could give the movie and music industries a new revenue stream by pressuring schools into signing up for monthly subscription services such as Ruckus and Napster. Ruckus is advertising-supported, and Napster charges a monthly fee per student.
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>The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) applauded the proposal, which is embedded in a 747-page spending and financial aid bill. “We very much support the language in the bill, which requires universities to provide evidence that they have a plan for implementing a technology to address illegal file sharing,” said Angela Martinez, a spokeswoman for the MPAA.
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>According to the bill, if universities did not agree to test “technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity,” all of their students—even ones who don’t own a computer—would lose federal financial aid.

But even if colleges abide by the guidelines in the bill, they only fall onto the other side of a lose-lose situation for their students. Every students — including those that don’t live on campus or don’t infringe copyrights — will be forced to pay for the compulsory Napster/Ruckus subscription with tuition fees. Steve Worona of Educase, a non-profit aimed at “advancing higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology,” says the fee increases caused by this bill “could represent a transfer of over $400 million annually from higher education to the entertainment industry while raising the cost of higher education.”

And because Napster and Ruckus are not iPod compatible and carry a pretty poor selection of music and movies, most students won’t even use the subscriptions that they would have to pay for.

Of course Hollywood says that it’s not just for them, it’s for the students too. Dan Glickman, chairman and CEO of the MPAA said in a statement: “Illegal downloading doesn’t just hurt the motion picture and music industries, but it can also be harmful to universities as it puts their systems at risk for security purposes, takes up bandwidth, and slows systems that are designed for research and other educational purposes.”

The bill, which is ironically aimed at lowering the costs of tuition and fees for higher education, will be marked up by the House Education and Labor Committee on Wednesday morning. Click here for a pdf of the phone numbers for every member of the committee. Call them up and tell them how you feel. (Calling Congressmen is fun a liberating!)

The above image is a visualization of part of the Gnutella peer-to-peer community sharing network.

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