Using pirated software is illegal.
Ever heard of the Business Software Alliance? Did you know that the BSA could fine your school heavily for using pirated software? Well, it can. Read about the BSA and its work and understand the laws and related penalties for violation of those laws. The BSA site also offers some tools and resources to help you make sure that your school is in compliance.
But everybody does it.
It's easy enough for a school to fall into the trap of copying software. It starts out innocently enough with somebody asking you to install your copy of Office XP on their system. Next thing you know that Office XP CD has found its way on to more systems than you'd care to know about. What's wrong with that? Unless you have enough licenses for the software, all that innocent copying is completely illegal.
They'll never find out!
How can the BSA find out what you have done? It's very simple. Disgruntled former employees and other people who wish your school ill can file anonymous complaints with BSA. Don't for a minute be seduced by the thought that your school is too small to be on the BSA's radar. It's not. The BSA is notorious for conducting audits of organizations to make examples of them in order to deter software piracy in the larger community.
Set a good example.
Using pirated software is a moral and ethical issue. After all, how can we tell students that it is unethical to cheat or to plagiarize when we adults readily use illegal software to run our computers? What are we really teaching them by stealing software? It's the same as telling them it is all right to cheat on our taxes as far as I am concerned.
Common Forms Of Piracy
Software piracy takes several forms. The most common method involves making a copy of a program to give to a friend. Seems innocent enough but it is illegal. Incidentally you will have noticed that the computer you buy from Dell or any other OEM manufacturer no longer comes with a Windows operating system CD. Microsoft stopped providing CD's with OEM systems in April 2000 in an attempt to choke off a pervasive form of piracy. You also should be aware that some 'white box' or no name systems come with unlicensed software. Caveat emptor.
Do you have enough licenses?
The trap into which schools can easily fall is the same one businesses have to watch out for, namely, not having enough client access licenses on hand for the number of actual users. For example, if you have Windows 2003 Server installed on your file server and you have 50 users actually accessing the file server most of the time, then you had better have at least 50 client access licenses paid for and on file. Otherwise you will be liable when BSA conducts audits in your town or city and demands to see your software licenses.
Get it anywhere!
The Internet has made it very easy to steal software. You can find anything you want on the Internet. Forums, newsgroups, Web sites, email, even auction sites, provide a rich trove of illegal treasure.
Four Steps You Can Take
What steps can you take to ensure that your school is using legally licensed software?
- Conduct your own audit of all the software your school uses.
- Keep the license numbers on file.
- Install monitoring software which lets you know when you have too many users for the number of licenses you have bought.
- Create and enforce a policy which makes it a serious offence to install pirated software on your school's computers.
While this article is intended primarily for administrators, teachers and trustees, I recommend that you discuss software piracy with your students and children within the context of copyright theft and plagiarism. Software piracy is an issue which will be part of their lives. They have to know how to handle it legally and ethically.