Piracy battle may move to colleges


WASHINGTON -- Tucked within the 850-page higher education bill that the House might approve Thursday rests two Hollywood-backed provisions that would require colleges to pump up efforts to keep students from illegally downloading.

While the studios contend that the provisions are an attempt to get colleges and universities to take responsibility for student behavior, the nation's colleges think they are being unfairly singled out.

The vote comes just before studio executives and campus bigwigs meet Friday in Los Angeles for an industry-educator task force that has been examining the friction between the two sectors.

The provisions in the bill are just a part of the industry's effort to combat piracy wherever it occurs, MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman said.

"Intellectual property theft costs over 140,000 American jobs each year -- a significant loss in this volatile economy," he said. "We are pleased that Congress is taking this important step toward helping us find ways to curb intellectual property theft on college campuses."

The Copyright Alliance, a coalition whose members range from ASCAP to Microsoft, urged lawmakers to support the provisions in a letter Wednesday.

One provision the MPAA is pushing would require colleges to tell the Secretary of Education how they are fighting piracy and what technological fixes they would deploy.

Very little piracy actually occurs on campus, said Terry Hartle, senior vp at the American Counsel on Education. He estimates that about 5% of students illegally download, making the mandate a waste of time and money.

"College students, especially college students on campus, account for a small percentage of illegal P2P file sharing and downloading, (and that) makes this provision excessive and unnecessary," Hartle said.

An early study backed by the MPAA put piracy rates on campus at 44%, but the trade group, citing faulty research, revised that number to 15%. Despite the glitch, Glickman said, the problem persists.

A less problematic Hollywood provision would require colleges to "make available" material explaining the legal and academic peril bootlegging brings to students.

While the higher education community doesn't like any of this, they have largely agreed to play ball. "To a large extent, we do that now," Hartle said.