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Bill Would Hand Colleges Cash For Anti-Piracy

Earlier this month U.S. Rep. Ric Keller warned colleges and universities if they didn't "get serious" about curbing peer-to-peer (P2P) music and movie theft on their campuses, "the hammer is coming." First, though, comes cash.

The Florida Republican introduced legislation Tuesday to allow schools to apply for federal grants to help purchase anti-piracy systems. The Curb Illegal Downloading on College Campuses Act of 2007 (H.R. 1689) would expand the allowable use of funds by the Department of Education to include technology solutions to piracy.

"Illegal downloading of music and movies on college campuses is harming their computer networks by consuming a huge amount of education-related bandwidth and exposing them to viruses," Keller said in a statement.

Keller's proposal comes as academia is taking increased fire over its efforts to curb the piracy that Congress and the music industry claims is rampant. Despite years of lawsuits targeting campus pirates, more than half of all college students still download music and movies illegally, according to the University of Richmond's Intellectual Property Institute.

At House hearing on March 8, John Vaughn, executive vice president of the Association of American Universities, told lawmakers schools face difficult challenges in curbing the theft rate, not the least of which is cost. He said the cost to implement one proposed filtering technology would be over $1 million initially, with annual licensing fees of approximately $250,000.

"Such costs represent a serious financial challenge for colleges and universities, particularly at a time when we are trying to address the issue of rising costs of attendance for students," Vaughn said.

A 2005 EDUCAUSE survey indicated that 73 percent of institutions surveyed shape network bandwidth by type of traffic to limit possible illegal P2P activity. Vaughn said this type of filtering is more effective in identifying large movie files than smaller music files.

"My legislation encourages colleges to be part of the solution by allowing them to apply for federal grants to help purchase innovative technologies that will stem piracy on their computer networks," Keller said.

Bryan Malenius, Keller's chief of staff, told internetnews.com the bill allows Congress to "put its money where its mouth is," laying the groundwork for schools to afford the pricey filtering technology."[Piracy] is just plain wrong. It's flat out wrong," Malenius said. "There are so many sites out there when folks can download legally."

UCLA Chief Technology Officer Jim Davis, though, told Congress legal download services are not a panacea for online piracy. Davis said students complain that legal services are limited in content, dependent on specific vendors or operating systems and the tunes are often non-transferable to portable players.

"Such concerns are not trivial to students. As creators of intellectual property ourselves, we understand the complexity in business models, particularly in a nascent area," he said. "But we also feel there are not good answers to give, because the business models are not yet viable."