The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, currently before both houses of Congress in different forms, would reform the corrupt student loan industry and make textbooks more affordable, among other admirable goals. Unfortunately, though, the bills also contain clauses that instruct universities to crack down on file-sharing on college campuses. While the Voice does not condone illegal file-sharing, Congress should not be roping universities into the fight against it, and Georgetown should not be diverting any of its limited resources into investigating students’ downloading habits.
The House bill calls for universities to “develop a plan” for combating illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing on campus. Not only would University efforts to fight file-sharing by monitoring and blocking Internet use be an invasion of privacy, they may not even be possible.
Attempts to prevent file-sharing by technological means would probably interfere with students’ ability to access other websites, including academic ones, according to Scott Fleming, Georgetown’s Assistant Vice President for Federal Relations.
Fortunately, the Senate version of the bill is much more sensible in its approach, demanding that universities explicitly tell their students that downloading copyrighted material is illegal and publicize the potential punishments that students could face.
The number of peer-to-peer file-sharing users has tripled to approximately 9 million since 2003, according to BigChampagne, an online measuring service. Illegal file-sharing is detrimental to the music and movie industries, but if Congress chooses to intervene, it should do so without enlisting university administrations as enforcers.
Congress should not act as puppet of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), who look incredibly petty when they attempt to wage war on downloaders through lawsuits. The RIAA resembles Goliath trying to bully David into surrender through outrageous fines and penalties for copyright infringement. Jammie Thomas, the first of 26,000 people sued by the RIAA to go to trial, was ordered to pay $220,000 for 24 songs that she downloaded from a peer-to-peer website.
Universities must protect the needs of their students, not the bottom lines of wealthy interest groups. The House should amend its version of the College Opportunity and Affordability Act to match the Senate’s version, which places student interests over the industries’ profits.