Archive:Notes on Response to HR 4137/Draft

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Two bills currently pending in the House of Representatives are important legislative efforts to help students manage the rising costs of higher education in the U.S. Unfortunately, a few paragraphs among hundreds of pages threaten to undermine the efficacy of these important bills. Embedded among writing that will crucially renew and update the Higher Education Act of 1965 [1], both The College Access and Opportunity Act of 2007 (H.R.3746) [2] and The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 (H.R.4137) [3] include amendments that could unnecessarily hinder the use and efficiency of academic computer networks. These amendments would increase the costs of education by burdening universities with impossible technical challenges. During the last few weeks, leaders representing the University System of Maryland, Stanford University, Yale University, The Pennsylvania State University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have issued statements requesting review of these proposed amendments. [4] As current university students, we too wish to voice our concern that a valuable piece of legislation not be compromised by an unfortunate addition.

The proposed bills charge institutions with developing plans for identifying the purpose and character of data transmissions across campus computer networks. Unfortunately, this type of monitoring is technically impracticable, unreasonably costly, and, most important, beyond the educational missions of institutions of higher education. Among the data that is copied across a university network, one will find works from the public domain, large experimental datasets, works whose licenses permit copying, and creative works protected by copyright used in research or the classroom. Because computer programs have not been able to match the nuanced manner in which a judge must apply the fair use balancing test to each alleged instance of copyright infringement, technical deterrents to infringement on academic networks unfairly burden lawful users by compromising their privacy and greatly slowing network traffic.

Some universities have contracted with private digital media distribution services to encourage lawful downloading of works protected by copyright. Many have found these services inadequate for the needs of an academic institution. In particular, a service that requires students to commit to a particular computing platform unfairly impacts competition in the marketplace and hinders students' ability to freely use and experiment with various technological platforms and tools. If those services also implement Digital Rights Management (DRM) to control how customers use the digital media they purchase, it necessarily constrains the non-commercial and educational uses of those creative works. Contracts with commercial media distribution services therefore limit the ability of colleges and universities to effectively serve their students.

Introducing any new technical initiative on a college or university campus also incurs significant costs in the form of hardware, software, and personnel. Even software provided free-of-cost will require maintenance and technical support. To offset these expenditures, H.R. 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act would create new grant opportunities for needy institutions, to be spent on filtering software, hiring and training new staff, or initiating contracts with private media downloading services. While we believe that federal funding would be better spent in support of projects like the Internet Archive that explicitly encourage scholarship, research, and a respect for the rights of creators, [5], Congress should consider the long-term downstream impact of imposing additional administrative burdens on institutions of higher education and simultaneously biasing the market in favor of any particular supplier or form of technology.

Higher education is a crucial step toward financial stability and mobility for young people and vital to the maintenance of the United States' competitive advantage in global trade and innovation. According to last year's census data, more than a quarter of adults twenty-five years or older had earned at least a Bachelor's degree and, on average, those graduates earned almost twice as much as those with only a high school diploma. [6] Yet as the value of a college degree has risen, so has the cost of tuition. [7] Renewing and extending the provisions of the Higher Education Act are essential to continued intellectual development and innovation in the United States. We strongly urge our legislators to look closely and critically at the two proposed bills to ensure that our institutions of higher learning may continue to effectively perform their missions unhindered by harmful and unnecessary regulations.


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References

[1] The Higher Education Act of 1965 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_Education_Act_of_1965

[2] H.R.3746 - College Access and Opportunity Act of 2007 http://www.opencongress.org/bill/110-h3746/show

[3] H.R.4137 - College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 http://www.opencongress.org/bill/110-h4137/show

[4] Letter Opposing the Inclusion of the Entertainment Industry Proposal on Illegal File Sharing in the HEA, November 7, 2007 http://www.aau.edu/education/Ltr_Higher_Ed_Joint_Cmte_House_P2P_Provision_11-7-2007.pdf Letter from Jerrold M. Grochow, Vice President for Information Services & Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, October 31, 2007 http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/CSD5216.pdf

[5] About the Internet Archive http://www.archive.org/about/about.php

[6] Earnings Gap Highlighted by Census Bureau Data on Educational Attainment http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/education/009749.html

[7] College Costs Rising at Double the Inflation Rate http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/22/education/21cnd-tuition.html

[8] College Board's Trends in College Pricing 2007 http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/about/news_info/trends/trends_pricing_07.pdf