By Lynette Owens

This past Wednesday, Wikipedia and many other online communities decided to blackout their websites for as long as 24 hours in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).  These two pieces of U.S. legislation are intended to stop the distribution of pirated music, movies and television shows online.  At the moment, due to the protest and concerns voiced by numerous organizations, it currently appears support for these two bills is waning.  While many are not necessarily against stopping online piracy, they are strongly opposed to the way these bills propose to address it, as they threaten many things ranging from free speech to privacy to the security of the Internet. (Trend Micro is officially opposed to them.)

Despite your stance on these two bills, one thing is clear: the music, movie, and television industries have spent a lot of time and money to address piracy.  Stronger actions will be taken against those who engage in producing and consuming pirated material in some form.  In countries like the UK and France, this is already true.  And whether or not you believe the music and movie industries are suffering major monetary losses due to rampant piracy, there are important shifts going on that we all need to aware of so we are ready for them and can guide kids accordingly.

First, to state the obvious, kids love music and movies.  Regarding music specifically, teens spend 16 hours a week with it, more than any other form of media according to YPulse.

Second, there is a shift in obtaining media online and how we consume it.  The shift is in attitudes and technology that gives us the opportunity to either own or just access music.  It’s the difference between buying specific songs on iTunes and owning them versus paying for a subscription to Rhapsody to hear any song you want.  There are many options in both camps, though the newer services fall under the subscription camp.

Lastly, starting in the summer of 2012, major U.S. internet service providers such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast will begin warning you to stop if you are downloading pirated material.  This process, sponsored by the RIAA and MPAA, is a minimum 5-step copyright alert system. Unlike, SOPA & PIPA which are directed at producers and distributors, this is directed at consumers.   It is also different from the “three strikes” rule set in other countries such as the UK & France, which by law forces ISPs to shut off service to a consumer after a few warnings.  It is a voluntary initiative that helps to formalize and create consistency across ISPs in how they will alert consumers about downloading illegally copied material.  Whether or not you are knowingly doing it, all consumers will be warned a few times before final legal action is taken.

Given the current landscape and the forces at play, it’s more important now than ever to educate kids about how they get the music and movies they love.  Here’s how you can guide them:

  1. Explain to them what copyrights are, how they work, and what they are designed to do.  A nice resource with a simple, kid-friendly explanation can be found from 
  2. Advise them to respect copyrights and download music, movies, etc. from legitimate sources.  If a friend tells them about a cool site to get a copy of a new movie or music album, or if they see offers online to download them, make sure they can verify they are from a legitimate source.  If they are unsure, tell them to trust their instincts and don’t do it. 
  3. Explore and tell them about the options.  Some suggestions are below, although there are many more if you spend 5 minutes searching around.
  • Purchase music, movies & television shows from iTunes if you have an Apple device.  If they will do this on their own iPod touch or iPhone, you might have them connect their devices to your iTunes account so you can have some say in the age-appropriateness of the music & movies they are downloading (via their Parental control setting).  And to keep the spending in control, you could also have them use iTunes gift cards or there is also a feature that allows you to set the maximum amount they can spend.
  • For non-Apple devices, you can purchase from Amazon.
  • Subscription services for music: You can choose to subscribe to a streaming service so rather than buy 1 album or song at a time; you have access to an enormous library of music for an on-going fee.  Some of the best ones recommended by PC Magazine include Spotify and Pandora.  See a longer list here . Some of these services have free options which have some limited features, but may be adequate for most kids.
  • Subscription services for movies and television shows: Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Vudu are some of the more popular options.

Most of us, not just kids, are consumers of digital entertainment.  So this topic has urgency for all of us.  And like many other issues concerning our kids and technology, it only takes a few minutes to get up to speed so you can continue to advise your kids on how to be safe, responsible online citizens. 

Below you will find more background information on the topic of online piracy:

Follow Lynette on Twitter @lynettetowens

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens is Vice President of Global Consumer Education & Marketing at Trend Micro and Founder of the Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 25+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support online safety, digital and media literacy and digital citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, an advisory committee member of the Digital Wellness Lab, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day.

Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens.