We noted last week that Pepsi had signed up a bunch of the kids accused of illegal file sharing to star in their Super Bowl commercial for iTunes. However, now, a former top exec for Paramount and Viacom entertainment properties (and a major architect of the movie industry's "anti-piracy" efforts) is saying that the ads are libelous for the kids. The ads clearly suggest that the kids were criminally prosecuted for sharing music - which simply isn't true. They were threatened with the potential for a charge in civil courts from the RIAA - and they all settled well before it came to that. The executive, Josh Wattles, points out that: "The ad falsely pumps up the music industry's enforcement effort, and its suggestive criminalization of the kids' behavior building up to the tag line 'we're still gonna download music for free off the Internet - and there's not a thing anyone can do about it,' reinforces the ad's presumption that their behavior had been criminal.... These kids weren't criminally prosecuted, but they'll get to live with this characterization for the rest of their lives - even after they grow up and move away from their childish false bravura performances." He's saying all of this, amazingly, as someone who still has a stake from the entertainment industry side of things, but who is upset with the way they're acting in this case (partly due to the risk of lawsuits, since he is a lawyer). The flip side, of course, is that the kids (or their parents) clearly agreed to be in these ads, but it's unclear if they knew they were going to be portrayed as actual criminals, rather than just recipients of civil legal threats. As Wattles says: "Falsely attributing criminal conduct to someone is a slam-dunk libel in just about every state."
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