Held Sept. 26.

A House education subcommittee held its first-ever hearing today (Sept. 26) to review how well higher education and the entertainment industries are working together to combat piracy.

Testifying before members of the Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness, part of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, RIAA president Cary Sherman voiced concern about the passive attitude at many colleges and universities in addressing illegal file-sharing on campus.

Sherman noted that while recent surveys indicate more than half of the nation’s college students frequently download music and movies illegally, an unfortunate number of university administrators tend to respond insufficiently to the problem.

“We have found that many of them resist taking action, or do as little as possible in order to brush off further responsibility,” Sherman said in testimony prepared for the subcommittee. “This reality is evident in the fact that more than half of students in a recent survey said they weren’t even sure whether illegal downloads were against their college or university’s policies.”

William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, testified that Maryland has a four-part program to combat illegal file sharing. There is an articulated policy covering acceptable use of the Internet, a core curriculum requirement for ethical use of the Internet, technology at every institution to monitor Internet use, and a legitimate alternative at every campus.

Cheryl Elzy, dean of university libraries for Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., testified about their Digital Citizen Project. When four subpoenas were recently received by the university in connection with students who were going to be sued for illegal file-sharing, Elzy said she thought about what her reaction would be if her college-student son was sued. "I would be raising hell with the university for not protecting him," she told the subcommittee members.

After 18 months in discussions with the RIAA, later joined by the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the university came up with their six-part approach. It includes education covering such concepts as fair use of copyright, making legal alternatives available and offering a reward system.

Noting that more than 1,000 graduating students each year become teachers, Elzy said the program is intended to pass this education on to the next generation.

William Fisher, director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, testified that trying to suppress illegal file sharing will not work. He said only offering better alternatives will work.

He noted that the more effective a filtering technology becomes, the more serious are the side-effects. The detrimental effects include filtering a good deal of legitimate works and invading privacy.

MPAA chairman/CEO Dan Glickman testified that enforcement must be consistent and meaningful. Rep. Robert Scott (D-Va.), asked the panelists whether criminal enforcement was sufficient and whether more resources were needed in this area. Noting increased support by the Department of Justice in recent years, Sherman said that making more units available to address the problem would be helpful.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.) and ranking member Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) led the hearing.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution recognizing that “institutions of higher education should adopt policies and educational programs on their campuses to help deter and eliminate illicit copyright infringement occurring on, and encourage educational uses of, their computer systems and networks.”