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Lawmakers Bash Colleges Over Campus Piracy

WASHINGTON – Annoyed at recent reports that online campus piracy rates top 50 percent, lawmakers warned college and university administrators Thursday if they don't do more to curb the theft, Congress would.

Complaining that a number of schools refused cooperate with a General Accountability Office (GAO) survey of campus piracy rates, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) said a number of colleges and universities simply are ignoring the problem.

"Unfortunately, many schools have turned a blind eye to piracy," Berman, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, said at a hearing to call administrators to task. "Current law isn't giving universities enough incentive to comply."

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, added campus piracy is still "rampant and widespread" and "too many schools do little or nothing about it. That's an unacceptable response."

According to the University of Richmond's Intellectual Property Institute, more than half of all college students download music and movies illegally. Another report from the research firm NPD claims college students get more of their music from illegal peer-to-peer (P2P) services than the rest of the population.

The numbers come more than five years after the music industry teamed with academia to launch college education programs to teach students about intellectual property rights. Since then, schools have incorporated copyright theft lessons in orientation sessions, preached the virtues of legal music services and researched technology that sniffs out illegal file swapping on campus networks.

"First, I should note that this is a ubiquitous problem, not one unique to higher education," John Vaughn, the executive vice president of the Association of American Universities, told the House panel. "P2P file sharing is widespread on the commercial networks serving a great many more customers than the roughly 17 million students served by higher education."

Vaughn said schools face a number of challenges in limiting illegal P2P file sharing, including cost, fostering an academic climate of free and open speech and the increasing use of legal P2P services.

"The uses of P2P technologies for legitimate purposes heightens the importance of being able to differentiate legitimate and illegitimate uses for any technologies intended to block…P2P file sharing," he said.

Jim Davis, UCLA's chief technology officer, noted that most of the infringement complaints at the school are directed at student residency halls, where approximately 20 percent of the student population live.

"Far more students live off-campus, making them part of the great majority of students who use commercial Internet service providers…outside of [UCLA's] purview," Davis said.

Davis also questioned legal music services as a panacea for reducing student infringement.

"Our students perceive these legal services to be limited in content, dependent on specific vendors or operating system and/or providing an uneven user experience," he said. "Generally, digital rights management means downloads are often unusable or non-transferable into the vast majority of students' portable players."

Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), dismissed the idea that schools can't control the piracy, claiming administrators are not enforcing the law or their own institutional policies.

"It doesn't have to be like this," he said. "We take this opportunity to once again ask schools to recognize the harm their inaction causes, to acknowledge the solutions that have been presented and to work with us productively to address a problem that affects us all."

In addition to Berman and Conyers, other lawmakers on the subcommittee sided with Sherman. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tex.) agreed schools weren't doing enough and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) suggested Congress might increase the schools' legal liability for the theft of their students.

Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.), though, issued the sternest warning: "For those universities that don't want to get serious about it, the hammer is coming," he said.