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Are Universities Piracy Playgrounds?

University networks are increasingly fertile breeding ground for software piracy, according to several groups tracking piracy trends. Students and employees are copying and downloading unlicensed software and openly exchanging such programs, exposing themselves and their college sponsors to liability.

Piracy costs software makers $2.9 billion a year, according to the two leading antipiracy associations, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) and the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA). The groups estimate that, of the 615 million new software applications installed worldwide during 1998, 231 million, or 38 percent, were pirated. This represents an increase of 2.5 million more applications than were pirated in 1997.

According to Software Publishers Association (SPA), the antipiracy arm of SIIA, nearly half (47 percent) of students acquire software by borrowing it from family and friends, while others download it from the Internet. Just two years ago, only 30 percent of students surveyed reported borrowing software. The problem is that students typically have unbridled Internet acess and are ignorant of the law.

University network administrators sharing experiences via an Internet mailing list called Unisog have noted that the illegal software they found ranged from programs that had nefarious purposes to harmless but popular applications, music, and film.

To minimize problems, college IT administrators need to actively scan their networks for unlicensed software and institute and enforce a strict soft- ware management policy, experts agree. Failing to do so can be costly, says Michael Barclay of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati. For example, the University of Oregon paid $130,000 to settle copyright claims after employees were alleged to have made unauthorized copies of Microsoft and Lotus programs and their accompanying manuals. Another reason for having a strong policy regarding the installation of software is that unlicensed programs often harbor viruses, according to the BSA.

What must be stressed to students and employees is that even after a purchase, they do not own the software per se, and thus are not free to do whatever they want with it. Rather, they have entered into a contract with the vendor, which gives them a license authorizing them to use the software according to the terms of the agreement. The law allows software to be copied once for backup purposes.

Computer users also need to know that they will be held responsible for their actions either by their school or by the law. For example, some schools have been making expulsion or suspension a part of the disciplinary actions. Under the law, software license violators face financial penalties and imprisonment.

There are several essential ingredients of a good software management policy. They are: appointing a member of the technical or management staff as the software manager; implementing a software policy and code of ethics, which express the law and establish penalties for violations; conducting a thorough internal controls analysis as well as periodic software audits; maintaining an up-to-date software log of existing licenses and registration materials; teaching software compliance policies to all staff and employees who use the system; and reporting piracy.

BSA and SIIA offer freeware that can help managers reduce software piracy. For example, BSA offers SoftScan, freeware that collects information about the license compliance of software on every PC on the network and compiles that information into a report. SPA offers WRQ Express Inventory, a software auditor. Both organizations also offer papers that can guide managers in setting up compliance programs.

"Be very careful," says Michael Sofka, senior systems programmer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "It is not enough to turn a blind eye. If you have cause to know about the situation and you do nothing about it, then you become responsible as well."

@ Look to SM Online for a link to the resources mentioned in this article.
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Title Annotation:software piracy
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 1, 2000
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