Hoping to spread the message to a new generation of students that copying software from the internet is wrong, the Business Software Alliance (BSA)—an industry trade group that represents software developers around the world—will distribute a free anti-piracy curriculum to 25,000 U.S. elementary and middle schools this August.

Although school leaders agree respecting intellectual property is an important concept for students to understand, some educators question the value of BSA’s curriculum.

“Play It Safe in Cyberspace” is the second anti-piracy curriculum developed by BSA. The new curriculum will target young computer users.

“Kids are increasingly becoming more cyber-savvy at a younger age,” said Laurie Head, BSA’s director of marketing and communications. “We thought it was best to reach out to them at a younger age, when they are still forming their internet behaviors.”

Software piracy remains a threat to the software industry.

“Almost half of all internet users have downloaded software on the internet. Eighty-one percent [of users] have not paid for all the copies they have made,” Head said, citing figures from a BSA survey released May 29.

The U.S. software industry reportedly lost more than $2.6 billion to software piracy in 2000, according to “The 2000 Global Software Piracy Report” conducted by the International Planning and Research Corp.

“Piracy has increased worldwide three percentage points,” added BSA spokeswoman Debbi Bauman.

In 1998, BSA created a similar curriculum with Scholastic Inc., called “Reboot Your Attitude,” that focused on why kids shouldn’t swap computer disks. But the proliferation of the internet has made it easier for students and others to copy software illegally, so the BSA felt the need to update its curriculum.

“There’s more of an emphasis on the internet” in the new curriculum, Head said. “It still covers some of the same material, and it has more of an internet focus.”

BSA is developing its newest curriculum with Weekly Reader, a 100-year-old company that publishes a weekly four-page newspaper for students in seven different grade levels that is distributed to some 50,000 schools nationwide.

The Play It Safe in Cyberspace curriculum includes a short teacher’s guide, activity sheets, and a classroom poster. There are four activities for grades three to five and four activities for grades six to eight.

Students will address questions such as: What is creative work? What is copyright law? Who get hurts when you copy software? What’s your piracy I.Q.?

“It’ll involve some online work and some interactive discussion in the classroom,” Head said.

One activity has students write their principal a letter that explains what they’ve learned about software piracy and then asks the principal to initiate a software audit of the school’s software.

BSA plans to mail 25,000 curriculum kits to U.S. schools on Weekly Reader’s distribution list this fall, and PDF versions will be available to download from the group’s web site. BSA also created a downloadable Canadian PDF version—available in both English and French—and plans to mail 5,000 postcards to Canadian schools to let them know they can download a version of the curriculum tailored to their language and laws.

The organization refused to say how much money it is spending to develop and distribute its curriculum. The project reportedly is funded with money recovered by BSA from organizations found to have violated anti-piracy laws.

Many school districts have adopted policies that prohibit software theft, and several schools already educate their students about software piracy.

“Students seem to have a laid-back attitude about sharing software, and they don’t seem to understand how it affects companies or how serious an offense it is,” said Chris Mahoney, director of technology for the Lake Hamilton Schools in Arkansas, where media specialists begin teaching about software piracy in middle school.

Kathy Schrock, administrator for technology at Nauset Public Schools in Massachusetts, said teachers in her district address intellectual property—including copyright, bibliographic citations, fair use, the Napster controversy, shareware versus freeware, and software copying—in computer classes for grades five through eight.

“It is not just software piracy that needs to be addressed, but the much larger issue of respecting the intellectual property of others and giving credit—or payment—as required in licensing agreements and U.S. copyright law,” Schrock said.

Mahoney said some teachers may need more than just a free curriculum before they can start teaching the subject.

“Teachers need to be trained in issues concerning software piracy before they are asked to incorporate it into their lesson plans,” he said. “Staff development would be an important key to make the teachers more aware of software piracy themselves. A better understanding of the laws would certainly be passed on to the students—especially in classes where technology is a part of the classroom.”

Others are skeptical of receiving educational content from a software trade group such as BSA.

“It is extremely unlikely that our school district will use any curriculum developed by [BSA]. We strongly object to their tactics as a software piracy watchdog,” said Dick Barkey, executive director of information technology for the Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Colorado.

One of BSA’s most prominent members is software giant Microsoft Corp., which has come under criticism by educators for its aggressive policing of school districts’ software use. Recently, Microsoft toned down its demands for software audits in some of the largest districts in the Pacific Northwest after school leaders there complained the company wasn’t giving them enough time to comply.

BSA’s new anti-piracy curriculum “puts [the group] in the position of enforcing compliance with the law when they are representing an organization [Microsoft] that has been convicted of violating the law. Somehow I doubt that the BSA curriculum explains all of this,” Barkey said.

“Regarding having students write letters to their principals telling them how to administer software anti-piracy programs, I think it is one of the worst ideas I have ever heard of,” Barkey added. “We are not that short of creative writing assignments for students.”

Links:

Business Software Alliance
http://www.bsa.org

Weekly Reader
http://wolves.dsc.k12.ar.us

Lake Hamilton Schools
http://wolves.dsc.k12.ar.us

Kathy Schrock
http://school.discovery.com/schrockguide

Adams 12 Five Star Schools
http://www.ad12.k12.co.us

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com