The Majority Leader wants to amend Higher Ed act to mandate controls on file sharing

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From today on Inside Higher Ed:

Showdown Over File Sharing
College officials have been aware and wary of growing Congressional interest in student file sharing of music and videos — a practice many students consider normal and that the entertainment industry views as tantamount to theft. Colleges, generally feeling caught in the middle, have worried that Congress might try to impose an unworkable solution.

And that’s what they fear could happen this week — with the Senate majority leader (needless to say someone with whom colleges do not want to pick a fight) largely responsible. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada announced his plan to prevent “campus based digital theft” through a series of requirements that he is expected to try to attach to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, when the Senate takes up that legislation, most likely in the next day or so. The Reid plan would require colleges to:

Report annually to the U.S. Education Department on policies related to illegal downloading.
Review their procedures to be sure that they are effective.
“Provide evidence” to the Education Department that they have “developed a plan for implementing a technology-based deterrent to prevent the illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property.”
The measure would also require the education secretary to annually identify the 25 colleges and universities that have in the previous year received the most notices of copyright violations using institutional technology networks.

While those provisions are in the amendment Senator Reid unveiled last week, they could easily change today or tomorrow, and lobbyists following the situation described it as fluid.

Reporting requirements are already in the reauthorization bill, so they aren’t the reason colleges are upset. Mark Luker, vice president of Educause, said that the measure on “technology based” systems would force colleges to buy software or hardware to theoretically block file sharing when that technology hasn’t yet become effective. Some experts also question whether this technology in its current form would end up blocking file-sharing that does not violate anyone’s copyright and that supports teaching and research.

“These technologies do not work well,” Luker said. “They are really not ready for prime time and colleges should not be forced to install them.”

Our colleagues from Educause urge you to CALL today, not write, your state’s U.S. senators’ staff members for higher education issues and tell them how much higher education opposes this amendment. Please also call Senator Reid’s office (202-224-3542), Senator Edward Kennedy’s office (202-224-4543), and Senator Michael Enzi’s office (202-224-3424).

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