Democrats Demand Colleges Stop File Sharing

House Democrats want to blackmail universities into spying for the music industry or paying them protection money.

New federal legislation says universities must agree to provide not just deterrents but also “alternatives” to peer-to-peer piracy, such as paying monthly subscription fees to the music industry for their students, on penalty of losing all financial aid for their students.

The U.S. House of Representatives bill (PDF), which was introduced late Friday by top Democratic politicians, could give the movie and music industries a new revenue stream by pressuring schools into signing up for monthly subscription services such as Ruckus and Napster. Ruckus is advertising-supported, and Napster charges a monthly fee per student.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) applauded the proposal, which is embedded in a 747-page spending and financial aid bill. “We very much support the language in the bill, which requires universities to provide evidence that they have a plan for implementing a technology to address illegal file sharing,” said Angela Martinez, a spokeswoman for the MPAA.

According to the bill, if universities did not agree to test “technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity,” all of their students–even ones who don’t own a computer–would lose federal financial aid.

I can understand the music industry’s frustrations over file sharing, since their business model has long revolved around packaging songs people want with nine others that they don’t. Ditto the movie studios, who want to control the release dates of DVDs so as to make it more likely people will pay $9 each to watch flicks in crowded theaters while consuming ridiculously overpriced snacks. I can even understand why Congress, which is empowered to protect intellectual property rights, would pass legislation making it illegal to “share” copyrighted music. But why on earth is it the responsibility of universities to monitor how students are using the Internet?

Further, the idea that Democrats are willing to strong-arm universities into paying protection money to the mega-corporations who own the record companies and movie studies — and strip financial aid from poor students if they don’t — simply boggles the mind.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. just me says:

    I don’t see how this is the job of the colleges to police or prevent. Sure a lot of it may take place at various colleges and universities, but it still isn’t their job.

    I wonder if it isn’t an attempt to make colleges responsible-unlike college kids who have very little money when companies sue, colleges do have money.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    The problem, it seems to me, is that the schools are the creatures of government these days and, consequently, must dance to the government’s tune.

    The music and film industries have become accustomed to offloading their risks onto the artists so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that rent-seeking to further mitigate their risks is part of their strategy as well.

    I find it rather sad that “entrepeneurialism” has come to mean eliminating the possibility of risk by petitioning government. I honestly don’t think that that the film and music industries have thought the situation through. When they completely become creatures of the government can censorship be far behind?

  3. Michael says:

    But why on earth is it the responsibility of universities to monitor how students are using the Internet?

    Because it is the universities that are providing the students with internet access. As far as I can tell, the bill isn’t requiring the universities to monitor student’s internet use, it is requiring universities to monitor for illegal activity taking place on their network. It amounts to requiring universities to crack down (or at least monitor and report) on crime on their campuses.

    That being said, I think this is a stupid requirement because there are ample ways for students to avoid this detection, and would only punish universities and law-abiding students for failing to accomplish an impossible task. The RIAA’s business model hasn’t evolved to meet the modern world, and instead of evolving they are trying to outlaw the modern world. Record labels are no longer needed to attain wide-spread distribution. Radiohead’s recent success with a “name your own price” album download is a real-world example of this. The recording industry is the new buggy-whip industry, and they can’t for the life of them figure out a way to stay relevent.

  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    So the democrats feel that protecting the music/movie industry is more important than funding college education.

    I guess I just can’t understand the progressive party and their ideals.

  5. jpe says:

    Both parties are, and always have been, in the pockets of the entertainment industry. It’s lamentable, but you can only be surprised if you haven’t been paying attention.

  6. Paul says:

    Those detestable democrats, trying to crack down on crime and respect property rights. Where on earth do they get these crazy liberal ideas?

    I thought I heard some universities were going to buy licenses to allow students to download music legally?

  7. Wilkin says:

    Where is this country headed?

    A storm is coming… I smell a new world order taking shape.

    Like the saying goes, follow the money. Big corporations will own everything… even politicians.