The U.S. House of Representatives bill (PDF), 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. is advertising-supported, and Napster charges a monthly fee per student.
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.
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.
The prospect of losing a combined total of nearly $100 billion a year in federal financial aid, coupled with the possibility of overzealous copyright-bots limiting the sharing of legitimate content, has alarmed university officials.
"Such an extraordinarily inappropriate and punitive outcome would result in all students on that campus losing their federal financial aid--including Pell grants and student loans that are essential to their ability to attend college, advance their education, and acquire the skills necessary to compete in the 21st-century economy," a letter from university officials to Congress written on Wednesday said. "Lower-income students, those most in need of federal financial aid, would be harmed most under the entertainment industry's proposal."
The letter was signed by the chancellor of the University of Maryland system, the president of Stanford University, the general counsel of Yale University, and the president of Penn State.
They stress that the "higher education community recognizes the seriousness of the problem of illegal peer-to-peer file sharing and has long been committed to working with the entertainment industry to find a workable solution to the problem." In addition, the letter says that colleges and universities are responsible for "only a small fraction of illegal file sharing."
The MPAA says the university presidents are overreacting. An MPAA representative sent CNET News.com a list of campuses that have begun filtering files transferred on their networks, including the University of Florida (Red Lambda technology); the University of Utah (network monitoring and Audible Magic); and Ohio's Wittenberg University (Audible Magic).
For each school taking such steps, the MPAA says, copyright complaints dramatically decreased, in some cases going from 50 a month to none.
The MPAA's Martinez did warn that the consequences of violating the proposed rules would be stiff: "Because it is added to the current reporting requirements that universities already have through the Secretary of Education, it would have the same penalties for noncompliance as any of the others requirements under current law."
Neither the Recording Industry Association of America nor the Association of American Universities was available for comment on Friday.
Expanding on an earlier anti-P2P plan
The two Democratic politicians behind Friday's bill are Reps. George Miller from California and Ruben Hinojosa of Texas. Miller is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and Hinojosa is chairman of the higher education subcommittee.
They said in a press release that the legislation, called the College Opportunity and Affordability Act, or COAA, will be voted on by the full committee next week.
The peer-to-peer sections of COAA appear to be a revision of an amendment originally proposed over the summer by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to his chamber's sweeping higher education reauthorization bill.
Groups like the American Association of Universities and Educause attacked Reid's proposal at the time,
The old language over the summer required schools to develop "a plan for implementing a technology-based deterrent to prevent the illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property." The new language requires "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."
Reid's bill also would have required the Secretary of Education to devise a list of the 25 schools with the highest levels of illegal peer-to-peer file sharing, based on entertainment industry statistics. That's not in the new COAA legislation.
On the Senate side, after universities raised a fuss, the contentious amendment was eventually diluted to a requirement that higher education institutions merely advise their students, in writing, of the legal consequences of "unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material" and what steps the school was taking to combat such activities.