Pirated Software Could Prove Costly to L.A. District

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An internal audit of one school in the Los Angeles Unified School District has uncovered hundreds of pirated computer-software programs, and that could end up costing the district millions of dollars.

Under a tentative agreement, the district would be required to pay $300,000 to the Washington-based Business Software Alliance for infringement.

The accord would also require the 681,500-student district to come into compliance with federal copyright law in three years, an effort officials say could cost the Los Angeles schools $4.5 million.

Compliance efforts would likely mean holding seminars for staff members, purchasing licensed software, removing unlicensed software, and monitoring the schools' use of software, said Victoria M. Castro, the school board president.

The audit of the West Valley Occupational Center was prompted by the BSA, a watchdog organization for seven leading software companies, following a call in 1996 to the group's pirating hot line.

Industry specialists say the problems in Los Angeles can be found in educational institutions across the country and could cost schools millions in copyright-violation penalties.

Pirating involves making unauthorized copies of licensed software, books, or music--and all are violations of federal law.

In Los Angeles, the illegal copies were most likely were made by well-intentioned teachers or administrators who did not realize they were doing anything wrong, said Rich Mason, the general counsel for the district.

"If we did [a districtwide] audit ... we would probably find some significant use of unlicensed software," Mr. Mason said. Employees "are simply not knowing they're not supposed to do this."

Officials of the nation's second- largest district plan to discuss the proposed settlement at a school board meeting Aug. 25.

Checking software use in the 660 district schools would not be an easy task, Ms. Castro said. Some facilities have hundreds of computers, and each year the district spends $8 million on new software, she said.

The district has a policy against pirating copyrighted materials, but, Ms. Castro said, the computer policy is "probably not as strong" as the other sections.

Universal Problem

The issue of pirated computer software is a universal one, said Karine Elsen, the BSA's director of marketing and public relations.

While there are no statistics on the number of schools that pirate software, an estimated one in four programs used in the United States is bootlegged, she said.

"Despite great strides recently ... there is still a lot of software that is copied and distributed. Unfortunately, as long as there is a resource need, there is a tendency for that to happen, " said David Byer, the vice president for government affairs at the Software Publishers Association in Washington.

The law on computer software should be clear, but the use of the Internet is murkier, said August W. Steinhilber, a Maryland lawyer who is an expert in copyright law.

In most cases, the federal Fair Use Act of 1976 does not apply to software. Some other copyrighted products--such as books and Internet materials--can be copied for educational purposes under strict guidelines, Mr. Byer said.

One solution would be to purchase a districtwide license that would allow districts to duplicate some programs within specified schools, Mr. Byer said.

Monitoring how products are used may prove the most difficult element of new technology, the experts say, and informing staff members of district policy may be the best way to prevent abuses.

Vol. 17, Issue 43, Page 3

Published in Print: August 5, 1998, as Pirated Software Could Prove Costly to L.A. District
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