Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Friendly High School senior Stephanie Thomas yesterday hunched over a poster illustrating how her focus group perceived illegal music downloading.

Titled “Saving Our Music One Note at a Time,” the poster depicted musical notes transforming into glowing dollar signs and heading into a trash can.

“Music is being taken and going into the trash because people are stealing it,” Stephanie said.

Stephanie, 17, was one of more than 100 high school students from Maryland, Virginia and the District who participated in an educational forum at the U.S. Department of Justice that addressed intellectual property theft. The forum was hosted by the Justice Department, Court TV and the organizations Street Law and I-Safe America.

Students from four area high schools volunteered to take part in the six-hour forum. Many students said their perceptions about downloading music, movies and computer software changed after hearing U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and recording artists Mark Selby and Tia Sillers discuss the issue.

“Intellectual property is a valuable economic resource for our nation,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “Yet every day, this resource is stolen when millions of people on the Internet illegally download software, music and computer games.”

Gerrod Wilson, a senior who attends Friendly High School in Fort Washington, said he didn’t realize how many people are affected by illegal downloading.

“When you first download, you don’t really put a face to it,” said Gerrod, 17. “But if you download a movie — the actors, director and all the way to the guy painting the set — you’re cutting their salaries down.”

In the afternoon, each student was assigned to a focus group to develop strategies for spreading awareness about intellectual property theft.

Stephanie’s group created a poster, while other groups wrote public service announcements and press releases. One group wrote a rap song.

“I know I can download music for free,” the students sang, parodying “I Know I Can” by rap artist Nas. “But that’s not the kind of person, I really wanna be.”

Officials said they hope to use some of the students’ strategies to tell children nationwide about the dangers of illegal downloading.

“You guys really are the ones that matter,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kim Smith told students. “We need to know what you think about these things.”

The event also kicked off a broader educational initiative on intellectual property by the Justice Department, outlined in its Intellectual Property Task Force Report.

“One of the recommendations of the report is prevention and public education,” said Arif Alikhan, executive director and chief counsel of the task force. “This is an important start in that process.”

Some students stopped short of promising to never download music or software again, but said the forum did cause them to think about the issue.

“It probably will [stop me from downloading],” said Wesley Yates, a 16-year-old junior at H.D. Woodson Senior High School in Northeast. “If they’re campaigning against it, then downloading something for free just wouldn’t seem right.”

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