The record labels' attempt to curb music piracy on campuses nationwide picked up support this week when a Florida congressman introduced legislation that would allow colleges to use federal funds to reduce student piracy.

Rep. Rick Keller, R-Fla., hopes the Curb Illegal Downloading on College Campuses Act will spur colleges to take steps to ease the problem on campus.

"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. "It's just plain wrong to steal billions of dollars in intellectual property from hardworking people whose jobs hang in the balance."

This month, the House Judiciary Committee's intellectual property subcommittee told a group of university administrators they need to take a more active role in the anti-piracy fight.

The problem of campus piracy is a serious one, costing the motion picture and record industries more than $20 million a year. The Motion Picture Assn. of America (MPAA), the lobbying arm of the major Hollywood studios, estimates that campus piracy accounts for 44 percent of the problem in the U.S.

A recent survey by the University of Richmond School of Law found that more than half of the nation's college students get most or more of their music from illegal peer-to-peer services that the rest of the population.

Under Keller's legislation universities could tap the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) Program under the Department of Education to fund "innovative on-campus, anti-piracy pilot programs designed to reduce digital piracy."

Both the MPAA and fellow lobby group the Recording Industry Assn. of America (RIAA) have filed suits against alleged infringers. In April, the RIAA launched a new anti-piracy program to encourage illegal P2P users to settle infringement claims before the record companies file lawsuits against them. The campaign is aimed specifically at abuses on campuses.

"This is well-timed and much-needed legislation," RIAA CEO and chairman Mitch Bainwol said. "During the last two months, we have seen a vigorous public conversation about the extensive theft of music on college campuses. Many schools have re-examined their existing policies and committed to do more to address this mutual problem. That's an encouraging sign."

But some critics of the RIAA contend that the legislation threatens to divert funds needed in other areas.

"While limiting illegal downloading of music is a worthy goal, it should not be accomplished with funds that are sorely needed to educate America's students so that this country can remain competitive in a global economy," said Gigi B. Sohn, president of the fair-use advocacy group Public Knowledge.

"It would be one thing if the recording industry were to donate money to colleges for this type of activity, but it is wholly another to divert limited federal education funds, paid for by taxpayers, that are best used for their intended purpose -- to educate the nation's young people."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter