Copyright Alert: House Passes Higher Education Opportunity Act

The House passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which includes provisions that require higher education institutions to take steps to curb illegal file sharing.

On July 30, 2008, EDUCAUSE issued a letter about the revised copyright provisions of the bill.

Here's an excerpt from that letter:

Section 493 (also below) is the result of much tug-and-pull over the last few months. In the end, it will require every college and university to certify that it "(A) has developed plans to effectively combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including through the use of a variety of technology-based deterrents; and (B) will, to the extent practicable, offer alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property, as determined by the institution in consultation with the chief technology officer or other designated officer of the institution."

The language of (A) represents a weaker requirement on colleges than had been discussed in some previous proposals. In particular, the Report language makes clear (see below) that technological deterrents "include bandwidth shaping, traffic monitoring to identify the largest bandwidth users, a vigorous program of accepting and responding to Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices, and a variety of commercial products designed to reduce or block illegal file sharing." Further, the Report states that the bill is to be considered technology neutral. It should be up to the institution to determine its policy and corresponding technology, which can include policies that prohibit the monitoring of content.

The language of (B) is stronger than in the previous version, in that it requires that institutions certify that they "will . . . offer alternatives" instead of simply requiring plans for them. There is considerable flexibility, however, in that the institutions must interpret the "to the extent practicable" qualifier in the context of their own situation. Moreover, access to legal alternative services may be accomplished in a growing number of ways, including institutionally provided on-campus services, providing links to a variety of commercial services, and other procedures, as indicated in the Report language. "The Conferees recognize that there is a broad range of possibilities that exist for institutions to consider in developing plans for purposes of complying with this Section."

Read more about it at "Congress Tackles the Higher Ed Act" and "EDUCAUSE Comments on the File Sharing Provisions in the HEA."