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EDUCAUSE, the RIAA, and a Lot of Other People: What I Heard at the Department of Education Hearing in Washington, DC

Yesterday, the Department of Education hosted the fifth of its six regional hearings on the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA). Held in the Department's Washington, DC K street offices, the meeting allowed panelists from the Department to hear feedback and collect testimony from the public regarding how the HEOA's rules should be drafted. People were also invited to submit correspondence electronically if they could not attend.

On Wednesday, the room was packed with more than 70 people representing various organizations. People spoke about an array of issues, including peer-to-peer file sharing (P2P), student aid, campus security, learning disabled programs, and accreditation rules. Because EDUCAUSE is taking the lead on the P2P issue, I'll confine my observations to that subject here.

EDUCAUSE Vice President Mark Luker asked that the Department "direct special care to the rules" pertaining to the P2P provisions. He asked that the panel pay attention to the conference report that accompanied the law, since it offers the universities great flexibility. Finally, Luker mentioned that EDUCAUSE has been "directly and intensely engaged" with the entertainment industry, technology vendors, and experts for years in an effort to come up with "mutually acceptable approaches" to copyright infringement issues. Because of this engagement, he asked that EDUCAUSE play a role in the negotiated rulemaking process. (EDUCAUSE President Diana Oblinger submitted a letter on the P2P issue for the record yesterday. This letter, which was sent on behalf of all EDUCAUSE member institutions, stresses the importance of the rule making process and asks that EDUCAUSE play a part in the process.)

It should also be noted that Don Spicer of the University of Maryland System, as well as representatives from the American Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) and the Association of American Universities (AAU) voiced concerns about onerous regulations related to unauthorized copyright infringement. Spicer in particular emphasized that "flexible rather than prescriptive rules" would be necessary for applying the law.

"The conferees clearly understood the diversity of American higher education and the need to develop rules that are flexible enough to allow varied institutions to deal with the problem and to meet the expectations of the law as appropriate to their local needs," Spicer said in his testimony.

But the education community was not alone in speaking about P2P. Representatives from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and Universal Music Group attended the hearing as well. They concentrated on four main points: 1) Strong acceptable use policies are needed, 2) Universities need to enforce those policies, 3) Technology is needed for blocking unauthorized content, and 4) Universities need to offer legal alternatives. They argued that technology solutions will ultimately save money for institutions. As evidence, they said the Universities of Utah and Florida each saved over $1 million when they installed Audible Magic and Red Lambda, respectively.

Universal Music Group Executive Vice President Matt Gerson told the panel that the vast majority of schools have not implemented technology for curbing copyright infringement. He dismissed bandwidth shaping, saying that the technology is oftentimes turned off at night, allowing students to download unauthorized content during the early morning hours. Gerson said copyright infringement has "taken its toll on the economy," and he questioned how serious universities were about actively enforcing their acceptable use policies.

Stuart McLaurin, the MPAA representative, asked that his organization and "others interested in protecting intellectual property" have a place in the negotiated rulemaking process. He also said using technology would send a clear message to students, a sentiment echoed by Gerson. Gerson said young adults need to realize that "stealing is stealing."




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