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Miscellaneous Travis Hite on 22 Nov 2007 05:25 am

Hitting where it hurts

MPAA Warning

A new 747-page bill is being given a run in Congress concerning budgeting for college aid.  I’m not exactly the type of person who reads government documents literally the size of airplanes, and a new version of this bill comes up pretty routinely as this is a $100-billion dollar expenditure and Congress does not take large a sum that large lightly.  However, embedded within this document is a little bit of nefarious wordage, which the MPAA could not be happier about.  The essential of this is that schools would have to prove that they are trying to subvert illegal file-sharing or run the risk of losing financial aid.  What constitutes an attempt at subverting illegal file-sharing can be anything from putting up a botnet that scans each package for copyrighted material, or simply subscribing every student a subscription service like Napster.  The MPAA’s stance is that college digital networks are the highest source of government expenditures and end up being one of the highest sources of file sharing practices.  Those who do not comply, according to CNET:

…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.

You can imagine the ramifications of such a thing are pretty terrible.  Students of lower income, those that have likely never owned a computer, are the most likely to be effected by this move.  Especially as those of lower income are more likely to aim for cheaper colleges that might not be capable of affording or even knowing how to install a botnet.  Of course, schools are not happy about this.  A letter signed by the chancellor of the University of Maryland scolds the bill for just this reason.  A representative from the MPAA Angela Martinez stands fast, at first, to this, and warns:

“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.”

Later though, when this bill begins to get more media attention, they seem to almost try to pull a 360.

The MPAA vice president emphasized that there’s technically no requirement under the bill that universities actually sign up for such “alternatives,” namely subscription-based music services like Ruckus.com and Napster, nor that they actually activate the filters they’re planning to develop. Committee aides close to the bill-drafting process have denied that schools would see their funding yanked if they didn’t come up with satisfactory plans, even if Attaway seemed to suggest that wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Whether or not the bill is intended to be used to deny funding, leaving the ability to do so is a bit strange.  Why even write a bill if it’s not planned on being put to use?  The chance that this might be used to deny otherwise innocent students the chance at a higher education is of paramount importance.  Congress will review the bill when they return from their Thanksgiving break in December.

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