The House passed the College Opportunity and Affordability Act (COAA) last week, leaving the troubling "Campus Digital Theft Prevention" requirements intact despite recent revelations that fears over unauthorized campus-based filesharing were drastically overblown by the motion picture industry.
The provision requires universities to combat unauthorized file sharing in two particular ways: by planning to engage entertainment industry-blessed downloading services and planning to use filters or other network tools to interdict infringing activity. It's unfortunate that a bill about college funding is being used as a vehicle for the entertainment industry, which has been making a concerted effort to target the youth and the higher education community with corny videos, invasive technology, and bad law.
The passage of this provision is particularly shocking in light of the recent revelation that the 2005 study that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) relied upon in lobbying Congress was tainted by a "human error." The secret, not-peer-reviewed MPAA study, which originally accused college students of being responsible for 44% of domestic revenue losses due to unauthorized downloading, was corrected to say that only college students were responsible for only 15%. And because only 20% of college students live on campus, then campus networks themselves are responsible for only a fraction of piracy-related losses. More importantly however, the MPAA is still hiding the study's methodology from the public -- they state only that "the MPAA will retain a third party to validate LEK's updated numbers."
What's next? The House and the Senate must meet "in conference" to reconcile differences in their respective versions of the same college funding bill, and the Senate's version of the COAA does not contain the mandate for exploring alternative downloading services and network filters. There's still a chance that members of Congress involved in the conference process will see through the smoke and mirrors to stand up for students and universities in rejecting this unnecessary and dangerous mandate.
As we've said before, there are more sensible ways to get creators compensated while respecting the privacy of students and faculty on university campuses.