The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed 95-0 a rewording of the Higher Education Reform Act to include a contingency that would tie educational funding to campus participation in fighting software piracy.
Reported to a Senate Committee on Monday and drafted by Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, the bill would require universities to block illegal file sharing or answer to the U.S. Secretary of Education. The 25 universities with the highest rates of file-sharing -- based on receipt of notices of illegal file-sharing -- would be put on a watch-list and their leaders could be required to take steps to prevent intellectual property theft and suffer funding losses if they fail.
The amendment, which includes the phrase "to provide for campus-based digital theft prevention," is the first time any changes have been proposed to the Higher Education Reform Act since 1998. Congressional Quarterly reported Tuesday afternoon that the "House has yet to assemble its own version of the reauthorization."
The bill is co-sponsored by 10 Senators including presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, and Chris Dodd.
The amendment does not sit well with some groups. The Digital Freedom Campaign, for example, calls the effort the "Big Brother Amendment."
"This amendment is the just latest in a series of legislative efforts by wealthy record labels to require our tax dollars to be spent on policing college students," Jennifer Stoltz, a spokesperson for the Digital Freedom Campaign, said in a prepared statement. "No one supports illegal downloading or file sharing, but the Digital Freedom Campaign and its members believe that Universities have more urgent things to do with their scarce budgets than collect information on their students for the government and for the [Recording Industry Association of America]. Academic resources would be better spent educating students rather than spying on them at the behest of large corporations."
The Digital Freedom Campaign is urging people to speak out against the plans as part of its broader lobbying efforts.
Record companies have complained that artists and industries around the globe suffer financially because of illegally copied works and they have aggressively pursued those involved.