Piracy Limits School Market’s Growth, Analysts Say at Parley

By Linda Chion-Kenney — December 12, 1984 5 min read

Minneapolis--About 18 months ago, when referring to the illegal copying of computer software, LeRoy Finkel stopped using the term “piracy’’ and replaced it with the word “stealing.”

“It takes the luster out of it,” he told educators and industry officials attending mecc ‘84, a computing conference held here this month by the Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation.

“The software industry today is hurting, and we’re part of the problem,” Mr. Finkel, instructional-computing coordinator for the San Mateo (Calif.) County Office of Education, told colleagues attending a panel discussion on software piracy and copyright issues.

“Number one, we don’t provide funds for software,” he said, “and number two, we steal software.”

Threatens the School Market

As a result, he and other conference participants noted, software companies concerned with earning an adequate return on their development and marketing investments might decide to abandon the school market.

“It’s unreasonable to expect an industry to develop a product and continue to develop products that are stolen,” said Ronald L. Barnes, deputy executive director of mecc, which publishes educational software for Minnesota schools and schools across the country and abroad.

Ignorance and Lack of Funds

Industry observers blame ignorance and insufficient funds for software purchases for the occurrence of illegal copying among educators.

“Probably the teachers who do it the most frequently are the best teachers and care about their kids’ getting good instruction,” said Patricia A. Walkington, a former teacher who is now manager of education marketing for Commodore Business Machines Inc.

“It’s like the Xerox machine and the workbook,” she added. “I remember one year I had one workbook for the kids and I stayed at school until eight o’clock at night to spend my time Xeroxing.” I had no other instructional materials to use.”

“I think what has to happen,” Ms. Walkington continued, “is that parents and school administrators need to provide the resources necessary to be able to adequately provide for software. A lot of times hardware budgets are made and they don’t include software at all.”

Carol Risher, director of copyright and new technology for the American Association of Publishers, said “rather than an out-and-out desire to steal,” a “lack of understanding about the long-term effects of copying is responsible for much of the copying.”

Nevertheless, she added, when there are willful infringements of the copyright law, publishers are prepared to take legal action, as they have in cases of illegal photocopying. “But we believe a strong education program is a very necessary first step because many people do not realize that copying software is a crime,” she said.

Copyright Violations

According to Mr. Finkel, educators need to be aware that it is illegal:

To copy software programs onto blank disks.

To use the archival disk allowed for under the copyright law for any other purpose than a backup if the original disk is mistakenly damaged or destroyed.

To facilitate the “proliferation of simultaneous users” by loading the same piece of software into several microcomputers for use by many students at one time.

“While there is no court case to prove me right or wrong,” Mr. Finkel added, “I think it is wise that we as educators take a conservative view. I wouldn’t want to be the test case.”

Illegal Copying at Home

Several teachers at the mecc meeting complained that they were not to blame for the reportedly widespread occurrence of illegal copying.

“The copying we’re talking about is largely done outside the school,” argued John Mueller, a data-processing teacher in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota. “Until you can convince teen-agers who are doing this that this law is for everybody, you can have all the teachers in the world carefully following the law and our software publishers will continue to lose thousands and thousands of dollars.

“I suppose,” he added, “that you can try to educate students, but we’ve tried that with drug abuse and it appears to me we’re on the increase instead of the decrease. The only possibility I see is if we begin to hold either students or their parents accountable somehow, and nobody likes that thought.”

Prosecution Unlikely

According to Stanley E. Kehl, a Minnesota lawyer specializing in computer law, the courts are unlikely to uphold the wholesale prosecution of those who illegally copy software because it would be impractical to do so without invading a person’s right to privacy in his home.

In Universal City Studio v. Sony Corporation of America, he noted, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was legal for individuals to tape broadcast programs for their own in-home use by using video-recording machines.

“What the ruling indicates,” Mr. Finkel said, “is that the court was not willing to talk about what people were [doing] at home for their home use. If it was a copyright infringement, how could it be enforced?”

According to Mr. Finkel, the illegal copying of computer software “is an attitude issue more than a law-enforcement issue.”

“I think it’s impossible to really go out and enforce this law against individuals at home,” he said. “What’s needed is an attitude among people that this type of copying is not correct and that it causes injury to people who produce software. Everyone wants quality software. If you do things like this, the software is not going to be produced.”

Companies Offer Incentives

As educators throughout the country grapple with the copyright-enforcement issue, company officials are looking for ways to curb the incidence of software piracy.

Commodore, for example, donates software to educators for preview libraries, but does so only if the district signs an agreement that they will not make illegal copies, Ms. Walkington said.

And Apple Computer Inc. is offering “ten-packs” of popular educational software programs at a substantial disount. For example, by creating a classroom set of materials, Apple is able to offer a “ten-pack” of Apple logo--which usually sells for $100 a copy-- for $280, said Sue Talley, education program development manager.

Further attempts to curb illegal copying are being discussed, she added, as the incidence of copyright infringements grows.

“You’ve got to remember that it’s only been in about the last year that schools had enough computers so they were talking about simultaneous uses of the same program,” Ms. Talley said.

“Before,” she added, “schools were tending to buy one copy of the software and use it on one computer and they’d rotate the students on that computer. Now there are more computers in the schools so it becomes a bigger problem.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 1984 edition of Education Week as Piracy Limits School Market’s Growth, Analysts Say at Parley