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