Dan Glickman, the movie industry’s top lobbyist, was doing his best. Determined to convince a group of UCLA students how wrong it is to copy a movie off the Internet, he was searching for a way to drive his point home.
First, the chairman of the Motion Picture Assn. of America told the 60 or so students gathered in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom about “the power of movies to change people’s lives.” To shore up his credentials, he mentioned that his son, Jonathan, is a movie producer. (He worked on “Rush Hour” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”) For good measure, he mentioned his son again.
Then Glickman came up with this: Illegal downloading, he said, is like stealing another person’s clothes.
Finally, the former U.S. Agriculture secretary and longtime senator from Kansas bid farewell, and the lights went down on “March of the Penguins” -- the much-heralded documentary and the reason most of the students had come in the first place. Immediately, it was clear that they hadn’t taken Glickman’s anti-piracy message seriously.
“Arrrrrrr!” shouted a group of students in the front row, prompting a chorus of pirate-like catcalls in the vein of Johnny Depp.
Chalk it up to irreverent youth. But the outbreak of pirate jokes Wednesday night underscored the challenge that Glickman faced as he toured college campuses lecturing on the need to protect movies from Internet thieves. UCLA was his fifth stop and his first in California.
Although downloading pirated films from the Internet is not nearly as rampant on college campuses as online copying of music, studios are alarmed that the numbers are growing. Research shows that young males are at the vanguard in downloading technology, and that pirating of movies tends to take place overwhelmingly on computers in college dorms.
That’s why Glickman has taken his message on the road. The college tour is a part of the MPAA’s larger campaign to persuade the public to respect the intellectual property rights of movie studios. To that end, Glickman’s aim seemed to be to remind people that they love movies.
As part of a question-and-answer session, Glickman said more than once that he had just seen the new “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” which opens today. Then he asked students to name their favorite movies. “Garden State” got several mentions, as did “Star Wars.”
One student wanted to know how the trade association came up with movie ratings. Several asked about easy and legal ways to download movies.
“Are there perhaps some benefits to piracy because more people now have access to the movies?” asked Mike Chen, a 28-year-old medical student.
“The ends do not justify the means,” Glickman responded.
Glickman isn’t the first anti-piracy advocate to get a tepid response at UCLA. In April, U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales addressed a group of high school students during a daylong seminar at the campus, urging them to just say no to online piracy.
But he, too, met with skepticism. Several of the students said the government should be focusing on eliminating poverty and improving education instead of jailing kids who download movies, music and software. One young man wore a patch over one eye, pirate-style.
Colleges and universities across the country are struggling to change students’ attitudes about illegal downloading. At UCLA, for example, if a student is caught illegally downloading a movie or a song on campus, their access to the Web is severely limited. They must remove any offending material from their computer and make an online confession, promising never to do it again.
Other campuses such as Tufts University have subsidized computer software that allows students to download music, movies and television shows legally. But they are having trouble keeping up with demand.
Brett Goldberg’s company, Cdigix Inc., offers one such downloading service to 33 college campuses, serving about 450,000 students. He said everyone was struggling to keep up with young people’s thirst for the new.
“They are getting stuff from peer-to-peer that is still in theaters or sometimes not even in theaters. We have to continue to beef up the offerings,” said Goldberg, whose company is racing to add new TV shows and films.
Eric Garland, chief executive of BigChampagne, a Los Angeles company that monitors online media, agreed.
“Hollywood has to be responsible for making it easier to access this stuff legitimately than to steal it,” he said, adding that young consumers “may be the savviest and most demanding consumer base that any of us have tried to sell to. They are not the anarchists that we often make them out to be.”
After Glickman left UCLA on Wednesday night, Chen, the medical student, said he had come mostly to see the penguin movie. He did not find the forum very satisfying.
“I think he seemed like he had a motive for being here and he had to give certain answers,” Chen said of the MPAA chief. Glickman’s agenda “doesn’t benefit the public, just the rich.”