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, Head said.

“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,” she 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.”

Others are skeptical of receiving educational content from a software trade group such as BSA. One of BSA’s most prominent members is software giant Microsoft Corp., which has been criticized by some educators for its aggressive business tactics.

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 the BSA curriculum explains all of this,” said Dick Barkey, executive director of information technology for the Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Colorado.

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

Weekly Reader
http://www.weeklyreader.com