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A Merit Badge That Can't Be Duplicated

MPAA, Scouts team up to offer an anti-piracy award. But will youths who see downloading as harmless strive for this patch?

October 21, 2006|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

Boy Scouts can earn badges for woodcarving, raising rabbits and firing shotguns.

But in the Los Angeles area, Scouts will now be able to earn their stripes by proselytizing about the evils of copyright piracy.

Officials with the local Boy Scouts and the Motion Picture Assn. of America on Friday unveiled the Respect Copyrights Activity Patch -- emblazoned with a large circle "C" copyright sign along with a film reel and musical notes.

The 52,000 Scouts who are eligible may earn the patch by participating in a curriculum produced by the MPAA. To earn the badge, Scouts must participate in several activities including creating a video public-service announcement and visiting a video-sharing website to identify which materials are copyrighted. They may also watch a movie and discuss how people behind the scenes would be harmed if the film were pirated.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 25, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Boy Scouts: A headline in a Saturday California section article about Boy Scouts' involvement in anti-piracy efforts referred to what scouts can earn as a merit badge. It is an activity patch.

But will the patch be a badge of honor or a scarlet letter of uncoolness?

Richie Farbman, 13, is raring to go, eager to warn others about the dangers of illegal downloading while adding to his more than 20 activity badges.

"I think it's really good to get the message out that it's bad," said the Redondo Beach Scout. "You can see your friends doing it and tell them why it's bad. I think if you're a role model, you can stop people."

But Richie said he knew his perspective wasn't shared by many of his classmates. "A lot of people don't think they're going to get in trouble," he said, "so they do it anyway."

Other teenagers say Richie and his Scouting buddies face an uphill battle. "Everyone knows it's illegal already, but they do it anyway," said Kevin Tran, a senior at Taft High School in Woodland Hills. "They can't afford to buy CDs and DVDs, and they see it [on the Internet] for free, so why not do it?"

Officials at the Scouts' Los Angeles Area Council said they approached the MPAA with the idea nine months ago, emphasizing that the entertainment industry lobbying group did not make financial donations to secure the badge program.

The inspiration for the new badge came from Hong Kong, where the local Boy Scouts organization had its members pledge not to use or buy pirated materials. In addition, the Scouts agreed to search Internet file-sharing sites and turn in sites and users they see violating the law. The campaign was launched at a stadium before a slew of pop stars where the so-called "youth ambassadors" pledged to stem the rise piracy.

The move raised concerns from civil libertarians, who feared the group was creating thousands of young spies to snitch on copyright abusers.

Victor Zuniga, a spokesman for the Scouts' Los Angeles Area Council, said his group decided on a less aggressive approach: The Scouts won't be asked to police the Internet for pirates.

"Our program is educational," Zuniga said, adding that the badge probably would be offered elsewhere if was successful here.

Stephanie Scott, a mother of two Boy Scouts, said the anti-piracy badge has something other Scouting activities lack. "This one is tailor-made for the city boy in L.A.," she said. "Scouts may just as soon go for this one rather than Wilderness Survival."

MPAA Chairman Dan Glickman said partnering with the Boy Scouts made sense because so much of the pirating was being done by teenagers. "The truth is: So many kids today are savvy with computers and Internet technology and can download anything," he said.

Although teenagers might roll their eyes at the new badge, some technology-industry analysts said it was a good idea.

"It's actually an incredibly savvy recognition that all the legal and legislative protection, all the technological intervention is clearly not enough to shut down the Internet," said Eric Garland, an analyst with BigChampagne, which tracks file-sharing networks. "You have to go after the will of the people. Make it an ethical issue."

But to many teens, it's not so much about ethics as it is money. "Sure [Scouts] should learn downloading is illegal. But if you can't afford to buy it, then they're going to do it anyway," said Kevin Nguyen, 16, Chatsworth High. "There's no way to control it."

david.pierson@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Amanda Covarrubias contributed to this report.

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