A Free Culture Failure: Campus-Based Digital Theft Prevention Passes Congress

Well, crap, guys. How did we let this one slip by?

HR 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act just passed Congress and is expected to be signed into law very soon.

Inside the bill is the Campus-Based Digital Theft Prevention act, a provision which requires colleges to subscribe to RIAA-approved services like the new Napster and to install software on the network which monitors and interrupt transfers which they decide they don’t like. This is a mandate for a non-neutral internet on college campuses. Students are being targeted by a cooperation between the government and the intellectual property industry to spy on us, filter our internet and the resources of our schools by spending our tuition costs on their DRM’d service. And unfortunately, we let this slip under the radar.

For the full story about the passing is available on Ars Technica, who have done a better write up than I could do. I also wrote about this on my personal site just over one year ago. It seems the bill has been watered down slightly from the original amendment, but the effect is the same.

But where was the opposition from Free Culture? I’m not trying to blame anyone but myself, but I think that we must develop a way to constantly monitor and publicly oppose this type of legislation. Otherwise, what is the point of our organization if we continue to allow things like this to happen?! We’re going to be an absolute laughing stock if we have silly events which celebrate the death of DRM when we don’t make a sound about federal legislation which requires all of our schools to purchase products which use it. There was only one blog post about the bill, 8 months ago. Not a peep since then, no page on the front page about pending legislation. So I can’t say that we missed this entirely, but a single blog post doesn’t affect anything outside of our own community, which is where the problem lies. It isn’t working because it isn’t enough.

So what are we supposed to do in the meantime?

First, I think we should develop a page (perhaps on the wiki?) and a squad to monitor the progress of legislation which could be a threat to us.

Second, we should be supporting Lawrence Lessig’s Change-Congress Movement which will stop corporations from having so much influence over Congressmen. Particularly Democratic congressmen from California.

Third, I would personally recommend that any student should be using secure protocols for all of their data transfers to prevent their being snooped on and tampered with. One such upcoming protocol is Anomos, a secure and anonymous multi-peer-to-peer file distribution platform. I’m a lead developer on this project and I will write a post on this blog about it once our alpha release candidate is announced.

Does anybody else have any ideas about steps we can take from things like this going unnoticed again? Let’s gets some discussion going in the comments.

Rich, Boston University Free Culture

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  1. Pingback: The New Freedom » Campus Based Digital Theft Prevention Bill Passes Congress

  2. Oof. That is some ugly legislation.

  3. Sarah R.

    How about partnership with other orgs (e.g. EFF)?

  4. With the caveat that I think that silly events (that get attention) can be great great and there is a huge amount of good to be done through work other than organized opposition to congressional legislation…

    You’re right that a lack of any organized opposition to this was a mess. One can think of quite a few things SFC could have done — and that other students would have listened to.

    But hell, it’s not too late to use this as a rallying cry for SFC. Let’s get an editorial in the first edition of every college newspapers about this law and what it means. Let’s brainstorm what can be done. Let’s use this event as a way to get new energy and blood into the organization as a way of reacting to this law and of ensuring that we’ll be in a better position to react to the next.

  5. Ok, now that I’ve actually looked at the legislation, I’m not as concerned. I don’t see any part that requires universities to do this stuff–it seems to just propose partnering with the Unis that want in to reduce copyright violations. There’s talk of grants to explore ideas, nothing more.

  6. Ryan

    I remember this slightly from last fall or late summer last year… my roommate was constantly complaining about it and how sad it was that it would pass pretty much no matter what because it was long and had a pretty name. There were stories a long time ago on slashdot about it.

  7. @Will:

    Like I said, the legislation is watered down. The problem with this bill is it is it opens the door and sets the standard to allow enforcement-type legislation, the kind that was proposed previously.

    Which is exactly why we need to keep an eye on this sort of thing.

  8. Pingback: The New Freedom » The Future of Free Culture

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