Online piracy bill could be major burden for colleges

SOPA has not yet been voted on in Congress.

Campus librarians and IT staffers could be legally required to comb through digital traffic for signs of copyright violations if Congress passes online piracy legislation that has met stiff opposition from higher-education groups that see the law as broad censoring of the internet.

The House of Representative’s Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act, backed by the influential entertainment industry as a way to crack down on web-based copyright violations, could impose a lasting workload on college and university officials charged with tracking online piracy on their school’s network.

SOPA, introduced in October by a bipartisan group of legislators, would let the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders secure court orders against websites accused of contributing to internet copyright infringement.

Sites found guilty of participating in online piracy under SOPA could be removed from search engines like Google and barred from processing credit card payments, among other restrictions that would make them largely unavailable to the public.

Although SOPA targets foreign online piracy, many in higher education said a student or faculty member using a campus network to connect to an overseas piracy site would require the school to take action.

Librarians, for instance, would have to publicize the new restrictions and consequences of SOPA while handling government and copyright holder claims of online privacy committed by campus community members.

“This has really struck people hard in education,” said Bryan Alexander, a senior fellow at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, a nonprofit group of 150 colleges and universities. “Librarians are the experts [in copyright violation], so it means more work for them, which is bad during a time of cutting budgets and reducing resources in higher education.”

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