April 30, 2004

More on the MPAA/Junior Achievement Program [8:57 am]

And, according to Wired Magazine, things aren’t going as swimmingly as the MPAA would like: Wired 12.05: File-Sharing Is, Like, Totally Uncool

The point of the program, says MPAA spokesperson Rich Taylor, is for “students to reach their own conclusions about being a good digital citizen.” The real point, of course, is to protect Hollywood from the fate of the record industry. While the music business has already suffered from file-sharing, the film industry has so far been largely unaffected. In fact, according to an Adams Media Research report, Hollywood has seen revenue rise 27 percent in the same four-year period that the recording industry went into free fall. So consider this a preemptive attack, a giant guilt trip on the file-sharing public. Compared to the recording industry’s strategy to sue everyone in sight, “What’s the Diff?” seems downright enlightened.

Critics aren’t mollified. The program presents a “tremendously one-sided view of copyright,” says Wendy Seltzer, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “There’s no balance; it’s entirely corporate driven. If anything, it’s an exercise in how efficiently you can brainwash students.”

Seltzer might be considerably less concerned had she sat in on a recent lesson at Commerce Middle School in a working-class neighborhood of Yonkers, New York. As in Santa Clarita, the kids here read their stock responses, but unlike their Californian counterparts, they do it in a sullen monotone, as if reciting some musty poem. Only the computer user, an animated wiseass in baggy jeans, delivers a passionate response. “It’s not hurting anybody. I’m not selling it. I’m using it in my home.” The other kids nod energetically at this, and hands shoot up throughout the room. One boy says, “If the computer user is just downloading music, how are the carpenters who work on movie sets being hurt?” The other students regard this as irrefutable logic, and a chorus of “mm-hmm” and “that’s right” fills the room.

A confident, articulate girl in cornrows and too-tight jeans speaks up. “Look, you preview what’s on the CD, and if you like it, you go out and buy the CD because you get a booklet and, like, extra stuff with it.” This, whether she knows it or not, is exactly the argument that the major music labels are hearing from many of their own consultants.

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