The College Opportunity and Affordability Act (PDF) is a monster of a document, weighing in at 747 pages. The bill aims to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965, and buried deep inside is a nasty secret sponsored by the entertainment industry: universities would be required to help fight piracy or risk the loss of federal funding.
One section of COAA would force universities to publicly disclose their policies and procedures relating to copyright enforcement, and to develop plans for exploring “technology-based deterrents” and alternatives -- like Napster or the ad-supported Ruckus service. These requirements would be backed up with federal grant money, which would be authorized for the purchase and implementation of whatever programs a university may try to implement.
Another section of the bill is more familiar, as it bears a striking similarity to some additions attempted in the Higher Education Amendments of 2007. Under the new text, universities would be required to annually inform students of the “civil and criminal liabilities” of file sharing, provide a summary of the consequences for violating copyright laws, and provide a description of the university’s disciplinary policies if they’re caught.
Universities would also be required to tell students about the various countermeasures they may use to “prevent and detect” unauthorized file sharing.
University officials have been understandably alarmed, as the above provisions would put a potential $100 billion each year in federal aid at risk; failure to comply would cause the school to lose all of its financial aid for students, affecting even those students who don’t own a personal computer.
In a letter written on Wednesday and signed by the presidents of Stanford University and Penn State, and the chancellor of the University of Maryland system, university officials wrote:
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 … lower-income students, those most in need of federal financial aid, would be harmed most under the entertainment industry's proposal.
Officials also noted that while the higher education systems does indeed recognize the “seriousness of the problem of illegal peer-to-peer file sharing,” it noted that schools and universities represented only a “small fraction” of the overall P2P ecosystem.
University leadership is overreacting, said the MPAA, and noted that schools that actively implement P2P counter-measures see far fewer copyright complaints — sometimes as little as zero per month.