Failing Intellectual Property Protection 101


Character education may be the key to piracy prevention

Behind every book there is an author; behind every music CD there are composers and musicians; and behind every software program there are developers and programmers. All are paid for their creative works — or at least they should be. Today's college students, however, are having trouble understanding the connection between the media they use and and the people who create it, according to research commissioned by the Business Software Alliance ( ; and prepared by Ipsos Public Affairs.

The study, which looks at students' and educators' attitudes toward online downloading, file-sharing and copyright law, found that only 24% of 1,000 college students surveyed considered it wrong to make unauthorized copies of software, while 89% said they didn't always pay for the copyrighted software they downloaded. Yet, curiously, a resounding 93% of the students agreed that "people who develop software deserve to be rewarded for their efforts."

Not surprisingly, "saving money" was among the reasons students listed for obtaining unlicensed or pirated versions of a program. But students, and some faculty, extend that justification further. A significant percentage of both (88% of students and 54% of faculty) said they "strongly agree" that it d'esn't make sense to charge hundreds of dollars per license for something they believe takes pennies to reproduce. The survey also reveals that 52% of students further supported the notion that the "tech industry is so prosperous, a few people using unlicensed software won't make a difference."

Of course, the reality is that it takes tens of millions of dollars in many cases to bring a popular software program to market. When those programs are distributed or downloaded illegally, publishers are unable to recoup their investment, which impacts employment and the development of new products. According to a state-by-state software piracy study commissioned for BSA, piracy cost more than 105,000 jobs, or $5.3 billion in lost wages, during 2002.

The economic impact is not the only cost of piracy, however, says Ethics Resource Center President Stuart Gilman, Ph.D., who works with many large multinational corporations that he says are concerned about what students may be leaving college with when they enter the workplace. He says a student without a firm grounding in ethics is "a time bomb walking into that organization."

According to Gilman, character education is the solution. Given the chance to explore issues of decency and put theory into practice, college students can indeed build character, with respecting copyright as a case in point. "I see software piracy as symptomatic of a larger problem of complacency," he says. "[It has become too easy to] lose sight of the responsibility of universities to serve as moral exemplars. Don't we have an obligation to teach ethics overtly." A philosophy course in applied ethics, Gilman suggests, is far less effective than bringing the topic into class discussions.

Students aren't being told that downloading unlicensed or illegal files is a mistake, says Robert Holleyman, president and CEO of BSA. "There have been positive advancements in peer-to-peer (P2P) technology, but its misuse raises concerns," he says. "Education is evermore important to changing these behaviors. With P2P use on the rise, student and educator attitudes toward illegal downloading and file-swapping, if ignored, have the potential to become a gateway for increased software piracy on thousands of college campuses."

Among the 300 professors surveyed, 79% stated they considered unauthorized copying to be wrong, while none reported obtaining software illegally. The data that bothers Gilman most is the idea that one-in-five faculty members may be telling their students to "go ahead and pull this off the Web where you can get it free."

Additional BSA Piracy Survey Findings

  • 23% of college and university students have downloaded software, with only 32% paying for it all or most of the time.
  • 69% of students have downloaded music, with only 8% of them paying for it all or even most of the time.
  • 26% have downloaded movies, with only 4% paying for it all or most of the time.
  • More than 40% of educators said it's OK to share or swap software to cut costs.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.