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US: Students Do Not Share Gonzales' View on Piracy

by By Lorenza Muñoz and Jon HealeyLos Angeles Times
April 29th, 2005

In his first trip to California as the nation's attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales told a group of high school students to just say no to online piracy.

But, for many of the students, the response was to just say "why not?"

During a daylong UCLA seminar featuring Gonzales, students peppered speakers with tough questions about the real effect of piracy. Some even suggested that government should focus more on tackling poverty and improving education than on jailing kids who download movies, music and software.

"Isn't the government using morality as a means for studios to make millions of dollars?" asked 18-year-old senior Kate Schwartz of Santa Monica's New Roads High School.

Unfazed by the students' skepticism, Gonzales said this was only the beginning of an intensive educational outreach effort. He wanted to let the students know that intellectual property theft was illegal, carried consequences and could permanently stain their records.

"Sitting through a one-hour, two-hour session may not be enough…. It takes awhile to educate people," he told reporters later. "And, unfortunately for some people, it will take an example by this department prosecuting people."

Still, Thursday's event proved to be a reality check for Gonzales and Hollywood in how hard it will be to discourage bootlegging by today's tech-savvy kids.

Eamon Cannon, an 18-year-old senior at New Roads, said talking to students as if they were criminals was unlikely to change downloading habits. The son of film and TV actress Robin Bartlett, who has appeared in such shows as "Mad About You," Cannon said he downloaded hip-hop songs from file-sharing networks and didn't plan to stop anytime soon.

"No one's going to relate to it," he said of Gonzales' stern message. "I don't feel I'm doing something wrong."

The seminar, sponsored by Court TV and the Motion Picture Assn. of America, also featured Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell and stuntman Kurt D. Lott pleading with the students not to download movies and music because it hurts artists financially. They told students that piracy cut into the Screen Actors Guild's health insurance and pension plans. Cromwell, who was in such films as "Babe" and the HBO show "Six Feet Under," is SAG's secretary-treasurer.

Cromwell noted that only a tiny fraction of actors make even $50,000 a year from their craft. Although the system for distributing money in the film industry may be broken, Cromwell said, it does not justify copying movies for free. "There's a downside to piracy, and that is, ultimately, it screws people over," he said.

But some students were not impressed.

Angel Aparicio, 18, a senior at Belmont High School, said his uncle had to take a second job because piracy slowed production at the DVD plant where he works.

"What stops actors and stuntmen from just getting another job like a normal citizen?" he asked.

Others questioned whether the punishment for pirating movies — as many as three years in federal prison for a first offender with no commercial motive — fit the crime.

Started under Gonzales' predecessor, John Ashcroft, the "Activate Your Mind: Protect Your Ideas" seminar held at UCLA is the educational component of a broader Justice Department initiative to combat piracy. That initiative includes assigning more prosecutors to copyright cases and increasing international cooperation by law enforcement to nab pirates.

Gonzales also met privately with studio representatives and let them know he expects them to do all they can to educate kids on copyright issues and to stem piracy.

"This is not a problem that can be solved solely by the government, by the Department of Justice," he told reporters. "There are civil remedies, civil tools that are available to the industry."

Court TV — a joint venture of Time Warner Inc. and Liberty Media Corp. — offered to work with the department on the educational component of the program. Thursday's event followed another session held in Washington in October with Ashcroft. About 120 students were selected from Belmont High School in Los Angeles, City Honors High School in Inglewood, Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach and New Roads.

Outside Bradley International Hall, students milling around the UCLA campus were equally unconvinced by anti-piracy arguments.

Bobby Brathwaite, a 26-year-old junior, said downloading on campus was pervasive and would continue well into the future.

"It's kind of the new business model and it's here to stay," he said, noting that he has about 200 song files on his computer. "Record companies are using the courts and law enforcement to try and protect their profit margins…. When I buy a CD I feel like I'm paying for corporate lawyers and corporate headquarters and, no offense, but I don't want to do that. And I don't have to."

But 21-year-old Marcy Rodriguez and her friend Sonja Fritz said they did not like to download — mainly because they didn't want viruses infecting their computers. Even still, they often receive copied CDs as gifts and usually hear homemade mixes at parties.

Senior Ashley Bonner said everyone she knew had downloaded music or movies at least once. She said most of her friends and acquaintances didn't see any risk with illegally copying music or movies.

"I don't think students think anything can happen," she said as she fiddled with her iPod. "I don't think the word is getting out there."

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