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'Pirates of the Internet' Is New Class Lesson

Film, Music Industries Take Warning on Illegal Downloads to Younger Audience

By Rebecca Dana
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2004; Page B02

Iris Beckwith uses a 5-foot-tall robot to help teach elementary school students why it is illegal to download movies and music from the Internet.

Children generally don't see why downloading is a problem, she said.


Students at the Nativity School in Burke listen to "Safety Bot," which is sponsored by America Online and asks and answers questions about the Internet, including the safety and ethics of downloading files. (Juana Arias -- The Washington Post)

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"These kids are in la la land," Beckwith said after the presentation to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at St. Bernadette's School in Springfield, in which "Safety Bot" gave advice on how to be safe online and Internet etiquette. "They've grown up thinking that because they can download whatever they want on the Internet, that they should and no one will be the wiser," said Beckwith, a consultant.

What is just as troubling, said Rich Taylor, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America, is that kids at a computer still think they are impossible to catch.

So the industry's effort to educate children too young to appreciate the potential consequences of downloading music, video games or a Hollywood blockbuster comes with this message:

"You may think you're anonymous, but you're not. You may think it's legal, but it's not. And you may think you're not hurting anyone, but you are."

The industry's approach is two-pronged: to terrify and to teach.

"It's a very thick topic, one that's difficult for kids to understand," Taylor said. "What we're trying to do is get it back to 'Stealing is wrong.' "

Last month, the Motion Picture Association announced that it would begin suing those who download, one by one, to scare file-sharers away from the practice many believe has taken a chunk out of industry revenue in recent years. With this, the movie industry followed the lead of the Recording Industry Association of America, which started its first lawsuits in fall 2003.

Hollywood estimates that it loses $3.5 billion a year to piracy, and, although statistics for unregulated, rampant, online file-sharing are difficult to gather, a 2003 analysis by the media consulting firm Viant Group found that roughly 500,000 movies are downloaded illegally every day.


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