Monday, March 19, 2007

Music and Movie Downloads...

Music and Movie Downloads...
Piracy is more than Yo, Ho, Ho! and Rides in Disneyworld!

All of our young people are wired and wireless, every day, from everywhere. That means they are very good at using the technologies. They are also very good at abusing them.

With all of the MP3 players, iPods and other video and audio-capable devices they are looking for songs and videos and movies to fill them. And with devices that can hold 25,000 and more songs and twenty movies, buying them isn't a viable option, at least for young people. (Do the math, $.99 times 25,000.)

So, what do they do? They do the obvious, using the easiest and cheapest route. They steal music and movies by downloading them illegally from the Internet or from other users, using peer-to-peer software, like Limewire and others.

Sometimes they know they are stealing, sometimes they don't. They may or may not have understood the consequences. They may not realize the difference between being able to download something and being permitted to. They may think that no one can figure out who they are, or what they are doing. But the law doesn't distinguish between those who steal knowing it's illegal and those who steal without knowing it's against the law. The consequences are the same.

In addition, illegal music downloading has destroyed retailers and the business model for the music industry, as we knew it. It threatens to do the same for the motion picture industry, and perhaps the computer software and gaming industries as well.

And, simply speaking, it's wrong.

And parents may find themselves on the losing side of a lawsuit, with the college tuition savings being spent on penalties paid to the industry groups instead of the college their kids hope to attend.

The settlements typically fall between $3000 and $6000 for music piracy, and more for motion picture piracy.

About a year ago, I flew to Wisconsin to hold a presentation on Internet safety and piracy risks for middle schoolers. The real star of that event was a 13-year old boy, named Benjamin. Ben was a soft-spoken gentle respectful young man. He was also scared to death. It wasn't his fear of public speaking that created this, but rather it was his fear of the consequences of his actions from the year before. You see, Benjamin had downloaded four motion pictures which were new releases. He never watched any of them, and one of them wouldn't play at all. But shortly after he downloaded them (having learned how to do that from his older sibling), his beloved grandfather (who looked like he was right out of the "Waltons") was sued for $600,000.

His grandfather was confused about the allegations of the lawsuit. How could he be sued for doing something he didn't even know you could do? Downloading movies? He could barely turn the computer on! So, he ignored the pleadings.

Ben, wanting to be honest with his grandfather (who was raising him), confessed. His grandfather, although disappointed, thought that this was all a big mistake. Clearly everyone was doing this (at least by downloading music). What was the big fuss about? He even called the number on the correspondence and spoke with someone in the offices of the MPAA counsel. They told him he had to pay a hefty settlement amount to avoid the lawsuit and possible damages of $600,000 ($150,000 per motion picture). He explained that he couldn't pay $600, and asked for something more reasonable. When nothing better was offered, he hung up, somehow thinking it was resolved or would go away.

But it didn't go away. (Legal proceedings don't go away very easily.) Sadly, a default judgment (when you don't show up in court, or don't answer the complaint, you lose "by default.") was entered against him. When the action was filed to enforce the judgment, he luckily found legal counsel. His counsel contacted the MPAA, and through caring and creative lawyering, worked out a deal that involved Benjamin explaining the consequences of downloading movies illegally and how his actions could have cost his grandfather everything he had.

The MPAA agreed, conditioned on their getting an expert they trusted to conduct the presentation. The lawyer said that she wanted a particular expert that she trusted. Luckily for Benjamin, I was the one each side had in mind.

So, standing by my side, Ben (tears in his eyes) talked about what had happened to him and why it doesn't pay to download a movie illegally.

That's one story.

But there are others.

A young student from an honors high school in New York was sued for downloading music, several years ago. Her family didn't have very much money, and the settlement amount was about $2000. When the story got out, many others offered to pay the settlement, but her mother refused. Expecting this young teen to become headline news for doing something to change the world, or for her accomplishments as a professional when she grew up, it was shocking to find her famous for stealing music online.

Now, I know that not many people are terribly sympathetic about the music industry's concerns with kids downloading music. For some reason, they tell me that they are more sympathetic about the motion picture industry's concerns about motion picture piracy.
But whether you think Justin Timberlake has enough money that he won't miss your teen's $.99 for the purchase of his track online, or think the music should be free, or that the music industry is greedy or whatever people tell me the reason is that they continue to download or permit their kids to download, it doesn't matter. It's wrong and it's illegal.

And they can and are getting caught.

I'd like to hear from you about this. Do you, as parents, care if your kids are stealing media online? Are you worried only about the possible lawsuits and damages you may have to pay? Why or why not?

One of our teenangels chapters (in Westchester Cty, NY) recently conducted a small survey of fellow teens to find out what they thought about piracy.

What we learned surprised us.

Check out their powerpoint at, and read what they have to say about what they learned right here on their blog.

my 2 cents.

Parry Aftab

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