Thursday, December 06, 2007

More Oppressive Student Legislation

The Nation is reporting yet another incredibly bad, special interest driven piece of legislation, H.R. 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act (COAA). As usual with this Congress, if it sounds like something good run for the hills.
Page 411 of this 747-page bill is "Section 494(A): CAMPUS-BASED DIGITAL THEFT PREVENTION" wherein the bill's meaning takes a serious detour from its title. To prevent college students from illegally accessing copyrighted material, the section says all schools shall (when you see the word "shall" in a law, it's a requirement, not a suggestion):

1) Have "a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property"
2) Have "a plan to explore technology based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity."

The craziest thing about this is that noncompliant schools would lose all their federal funding, for all their students. No more Pell Grants. No more federal financial aid. No more student loans. This is not just draconian punishment for students who break the law, this punishes all students at that institution even if they did nothing!

Beyond that, both requirements actually work against the point of the bill itself--implementation would likely raise school fees.

If a school requires students to sign up with an "alternative system," this means (for now) a for-profit company. Who pays for the subscription? And if a school has to use filtering software, who's going to pay for that? If schools have to prove compliance, they will have to make it mandatory--folding it into school fees is the simplest way. How does that contribute to "Affordability?"

There's no good reason for fee hikes because the requirements could never solve the "problem." Let's back up: what's the problem and why are schools being forced to solve it?

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