For any concerned parent, finding out your son has joined the Boy Scouts is a happy moment. Not for your offspring the perils of hanging around shopping malls, learning the right way to wear a hoodie and useful tricks with guns and knives.
Oh no. Your pride and joy is going to be picking up far more sociable skills, such as putting up a tent, helping elderly people with their household chores and raising money for worthy causes. He’ll be learning initiative, courage and resourcefulness, and on his way to being a pillar of the community.
And, thanks to a recent development among Boy Scouts in California, children will also be learning about the peril of IP counterfeiting and copyright piracy.
That’s because the Boy Scouts of America in Los Angeles has teamed up with the Motion picture Association of America (MPAA) in a programme to spread the word about the importance of copyright. Aimed at cutting into the $20 billion the US economy is estimated to lose each year to copyright pirates, the programme encourages scouts in Los Angeles to learn about the costs of downloading pirated material in return for a fetching new activity patch showing a film reel, a CD and the international copyright symbol.
It sounds an estimable idea. Copyright piracy is an illegal activity that harms the people who produce the material in the first place, and a lot of those people live in Los Angeles. So, in that area at least, spreading the word about copyright can be seen as being as much a community project as helping old folk across the street or cleaning up the local park.
Indeed, some of the activities the Scouts need to perform to earn this hot new patch seem helpful and straightforward. For example, they need to demonstrate knowledge of what copyright is and why it matters. They can play a favourite video game and identify who the designers are. They can visit a film studio and find out how much it costs to make a movie.
No doubt the vast majority of parents have nothing whatsoever on their computers that they would rather hide from their kids. But there may be one or two who just conceivably might.
But there’s more. The MPAA’s curriculum also urges the Scouts to research peer-to-peer websites and find out how they are sometimes used to illegally trade copyrighted materials. That sounds sensible, so long as it doesn’t also educate them how to do it. The last thing that the industry wants children to do is to learn how peer-to-peer websites can be used to download all those movies, games and music that no amount of paper rounds has managed to get them.
The curriculum also suggests that Scouts encourage the use of ways to detect peer-to-peer software, specifically the MPAA’s own parent File scan. In case you missed it, the parent File scan is a software tool created by the MPAA, aimed at parents for use on their children’s computers. It scans a PC, identifies all media files on it and asks if it can delete them. Sadly, it cannot tell you whether the files are legal.
However, while parents may reasonably feel justified in using this tool on their children’s computers to find out what on earth they’ve been up to, the prospect of their children using it against them might be less welcome. No doubt the vast majority of parents have nothing whatsoever on their computers that they would rather hide from their kids. But there may be one or two who just conceivably might.
And while the intention is to get Boy Scouts contributing to the important fight against copyright piracy. And the effect could be to teach them how to plough through their parents’ PCs for any secrets, dirty or otherwise, that might be lurking there. You can send off asking for the programme to be brought to a scout Hall near you, if you like. But if my son ever tells me he wants to join the scouts, I’ll take a safer option. I’ll buy him a hoodie and send him down to the shopping mall instead.
This article first appeared in IP Review, issue 18