Pols talk tough on campus piracy

Several are upset about slow response by school officials

Lawmakers' patience with campus copyright piracy is wearing thin as members of the House Judiciary Committee's copyright panel pushed university administrators Thursday to take a more active role combating the problem.

Rep. How-ard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the Intellectual Property Subcommittee, told a panel of university administrators, music industry executives and technology experts that merely talking about the issue won't solve the problem and that definite action must be taken.

"I'm concerned that current law isn't giving universities enough incentive to stop piracy," Berman said, adding that tax incentives and bonuses universities receive from the government might need closer scrutiny.

"The scope of the problem may involve other committees," he said. "There are legislative and nonlegislative options."

Berman expressed particular displeasure at Purdue University, which held the No. 2 spot on a recent list of worst offenders released by the RIAA. Berman said the university agreed to testify but then backed out at the last minute.

"Purdue was invited to testify, but — I don't know if we can make the reference — but Purdue chickened out," Berman said.

Levity aside, the problem with campus piracy is a serious one, costing the motion picture and recording industries more than $20 million a year. The MPAA estimates that campus piracy accounts for 44% of the problem in the U.S.

A call to Purdue late Thursday went unreturned by press time.

Berman wasn't the only lawmaker upset at universities' slow response. Full committee chairman Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and the subcommittee's senior Republican, North Carolina Rep. Howard Coble, also expressed concern. "There are too many schools that have done too little to stem this problem," Conyers said.

John Vaughn, executive vp of the Association of American Universities, defended the schools, arguing that the piracy is a problem across society, not just on campus. "It is a ubiquitous problem," Vaughn told the lawmakers. "It is not unique to higher education."

While that is true, universities pose a particular concern as they have some of the fastest networks available and college-age people are the primary customers for copyrighted works.

"College students used to be our best customers," RIAA president Cary Sherman said in an interview. "They used to buy our products in college record stores. Now they don't exist anymore."

Sherman and other copyright owners hope that by putting the pressure on colleges they can win back those customers who now go online instead of into a store.

"It's not just the loss of those sales, it's the habits they learn for a lifetime at college," he said. "We don't want students going through adulthood thinking that stealing is OK because no one said it wasn't."