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Hollywood, the RIAA and Commercialism in the Classroom

By Jon Newton
May 5, 2004 10:53 AM PT

The entertainment industry -- Hollywood, for short -- has done an amazing job of using mainstream print and electronic media to snow the public at large into believing anyone who shares digital music files online is a hard-core villain, out to steal bread from the mouths of starving artists.

Hollywood, the RIAA and Commercialism in the Classroom

Using the Recording Industry Association of America -- owned by the Big Five record labels -- as a foil, it loses no opportunity to speak of file swappers in the same breath as organized criminals who counterfeit or duplicate DVDs and software for resale on the black market.

But not one of the 2,500 men, women and children accused by the RIAA has ever been convicted -- because not one of them has ever appeared before a judge.

The RIAA victims are all ordinary people who can't hope to match the entertainment industry's bottomless pockets or go up against its heavyweight, highly skilled legal teams. Rather than risk the huge financial penalties losing to Big Music inevitably would entail, they always settle out of court.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

This pattern negates the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and the RIAA continues to pillory people at will, aided and abetted by its many powerful "friends" in the U.S. Congress.

In the meantime, Big Music's "sue 'em all" campaign leads, of course, in only one direction: toward getting consumers to buy product. With this in mind, the RIAA has been able to turn Penn State University and the University of Rochester into record-industry cops and salespeople -- unpaid, of course.

It goes like this: If Penn or Rochester students download Big Five songs from services supported and supplied by the Big Five labels instead of from file-sharing networks, those students can avoid being dragged into court by the Big Five labels.

Enter the MPAA

But there's nothing like getting them young, and if Hollywood is casting music file-sharers as criminals and using the RIAA to penetrate universities so it can push product there, it's also successfully employing the RIAA's opposite number in the movies, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), to win the hearts and minds of children in junior- and mid-level schools.

There, the MPAA is force-feeding high-toned moralistic "educational" programs to kids, which is interesting given that Hollywood arguably is home to some of the most immoral, venal and dishonest people to be found anywhere.

What makes it even more interesting is that teachers and school administrators are not only letting them do it, they're helping.

Targeting Students

In October last year, p2pnet reported that Hollywood had embarked on a project to pump antipiracy messages to 900,000 students through a program being integrated into more than 36,000 classrooms across America.

Carrying the message to kids in grades five to nine via volunteer teachers was (and still is) Junior Achievement, a not-for-profit organization "sponsored by corporate and individual contributors."

JA was offering DVD players, DVD movies, theater tickets and all-expenses-paid trips to Hollywood to students who wrote winning essays about the illegalities of file-sharing. When the program was launched, JA said, "Teachers, too, can win prizes for effectively communicating the approved message in class."

As Kathleen Sharp writes in the Boston Globe, "the industry is dominated by five studio-based conglomerates that also own major recording labels, television networks, radio stations, and other media subsidiaries. Its antifilm-piracy curriculum was developed to preempt problems suffered by the music industry, which for years has claimed that it loses as much as $4 billion a year from illegal copying."

Students Playing the Starving Artist

Sharp quotes MPAA spokesperson Rich Taylor as saying 500,000 movies are downloaded every day around the world -- although he wasn't sure how many of those are actually illegal: "We know that one area we have to attack is on the educational front."

Now her story gets truly alarming.

"Earlier this year, Junior Achievement volunteers debuted the industry's program in California classrooms," she says.

One volunteer, Steve Dolcemaschio, an executive with E! Entertainment Television Inc. (jointly owned by Comcast Corp., The Walt Disney Co. and Liberty Media Corp.) worked with Diedre Ndiaye, who teaches speech and drama to sixth- through eighth-grade students at Markham Middle School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Many children in the class indicated they had never downloaded anything before.

The volunteer and the teacher worked from a 25-page classroom guide to explain the concept of using a computer to download files, which they called "morally and ethically wrong." The students played roles such as "The Film Producer," "The Starving Artist," and were asked questions such as "Has anyone ever copied your homework? How did this make you feel?"

By the end of one session, the teacher asked one boy: "Will you stop copying music online and download the right way?" -- and "Yes," he answered. "I'll go to the music store and buy more CDs."

Students learn to repeat the program's motto: "If you don't pay for it, you've stolen it."

Very recently, the FBI, in effect acting for the entertainment industry, raided schools in Arizona looking for "pirate" contraband in the shape of music and movie files.

'Enhance Classroom Discussion'

Sharp concludes with a quote from Alex Molnar, a professor who is director of commercialism in education at Arizona State University.

Commercialism has no place in the classroom, he said. "This program is a time vampire. Is it more important for kids to hear the movie industry's message, or should they be learning to read and pass new test standards?"

Sharp winds up with a comment from Darrell Luzzo, senior vice president of Junior Achievement, who defends the industry's antipiracy program, saying it's not meant to cover all aspects of copyright law. Rather, the idea is to encourage student debate.

"'We are learning ways to enhance classroom discussions.'"

Jon Newton, a TechNewsWorld columnist, founded and runs p2pnet.net, a daily peer-to-peer and digital media news site focused on issues surrounding file-sharing, the entertainment industry and distributed computing. p2pnet is based in Canada, where sharing music online is legal.

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