I teach at California Polytechnic State University — known as Cal Poly to most of you– in San Luis Obispo. Over the past four years my course load has steadily increased to more than half time. My schedule now includes classes in typography, color quality control, and image management. Teaching is interesting and fun, and the quality of the students is extraordinary.
But where the students are smart and serious, they also provoke controversy from time to time in their out-of-school activities.
After a class in Typography in the Spring quarter, I found a pirated copy of the Adobe Font Folio, a CD-ROM set with more than 2,750 Adobe fonts on it. Adobe sells this product for $8,999. I confiscated the disc, made a deep scratch across its data side, then attempted to find its source.
After some investigation, I learned that a student had received the disc as a copy from a former employer, who also had a copy, not an original. Though the student understood the reason for the confiscation, he was angry that I had removed his CD from circulation, making it harder for him to create designs using these Adobe fonts.
It wasn’t an isolated incident.
On another day I found an unlabeled Zip disk on a desk after class, and popped it into a machine to try to determine its owner. On the disk was the complete software collection for Adobe Illustrator 10, taken from our classroom computer server. The student didn’t realize that this copy will not work without a keyserver serial number, something our classroom computers get from our key server software on launch, but that didn’t stop him from copying it.
Alarmed by these discoveries, at the end of Winter quarter I took a poll of my Advanced Typography students, asking them a few questions about software and their personal computers. Of the 33 students enrolled in my class:
- Only one had a legitimate copy of QuarkXPress, though all 33 said they had the program on their personal computers.
- One had a legitimate copy of Adobe Illustrator, though nearly all of the rest admitted having the program on their computers.
- All 33 have a copy of Photoshop 6 or 7 on their machines, though only one has paid for her copy (the same student).
- Three students had legal copies of Microsoft Office, though all 33 admitted to having complete copies of Office on their computers. (It’s interesting to note that Microsoft makes a $30 disc-only version of Office available through our campus bookstore — I recently bought a copy.)If I calculate the value of the software that these students acknowledge having, even at discounted student prices, the total is in the neighborhood of $24,000 — and that represents only one classroom of students.
Our program is faced with this problem, as are all the educational programs that promote training in the graphic arts. Students and their parents are asked to pay tuition, to rent student apartments, own an automobile, pay for food and clothing and utilities, and then buy a powerful computer and expensive software in order to complete their lab assignments. None of this is beneath the expectations of a professional person.
The students argue that software is beyond their means, that they just can’t afford it and the other costs of student living. Passing a copy of QuarkXPress around is a harmless thing, isn’t it? I think not.
Is my university alone in facing the Student Software Piracy Scandal of 2003? Heavens, no! I suspect that thousands or tens of thousands of illegal copies of Photoshop and Office and Illustrator and XPress are floating around the student communities of North America. Let’s assume, for the sake of example, that of the approximately 275 students in our department at Cal Poly, the same percentage of software piracy is going on (about 97 percent). That would mean 266 students have pirated copies of the major graphic arts applications on their computers. If we take just Photoshop as an example, the loss in sales represents nearly $80,000 to Adobe and its retailers. This is simply unfair to these firms. Cal Poly University has a strict policy regarding software piracy, treating it as they would any serious theft. Nonetheless, the university does not control the off-campus use or abuse of software, except to prohibit unlawful copying of software on campus, or using campus computers.
Where do students get pirated software? Pirated software passes like rumors from student-to-student, proliferating through educational communities like a sanctioned virus. Software serial numbers, either stolen, copied, or reverse-engineered by hackers, make their way into the community, and allow the software to operate without hindrance. There are also online sources of complete software and accompanying serial numbers.
This unauthorized software problem is not limited to education. I recently did a consultation with a local non-profit organization, whose copy of PageMaker was registered to a distant company not at all related to the work of this group. When I asked about the software, the administrator of this very proper organization said, “We would never give it away to anyone else.” Does this mean that larceny is OK, unless you’re the one providing the stolen goods?
Manufacturers do try to prevent wholesale theft of their work. Some applications use network security checks, looking over the local area network to see if another copy of the same software is running with the same serial number. If one is discovered, the software disables itself temporarily, making further use of that application impossible. Other software firms have come up with schemes where the software will check-in with the home office occasionally, checking the serial number, and checking for updates. If the serial number is already taken, or is in use elsewhere, the copy checking-in will be disabled temporarily.
But there things get a bit more complicated. Software publishers don’t want your copy of their software to fail — ever. And, these firms will usually opt for doing nothing rather than to disable a pirated copy of software found over the Internet, even if it is possible to do so. Generating bad will among customers is not one of the goals of software companies. They would rather earn the loyalty of customers now in order to make an upgrade sale later, than send a student to jail for copyright violation.
Another approach to prevent software piracy is to require the use of a hardware protection key, sometimes called a dongle, that plugs into the USB port on the computer, and allows only a single copy of the software to work on that machine. If the software is copied to another machine, it will not work unless the dongle accompanies it.
Dongles are an effective way to prevent unauthorized use of software, but they take up a USB port (older ADB and parallel dongles were pass-through devices, allowing another device to be plugged in piggy-back) and they are not popular with customers because they are just another high-liability gadget to protect. If a dongle walks-off, the software is unusable.
The Business Software Alliance works within the business community to preserve a modicum of legality in software use. The organization, supported by the major software publishers, seeks out illegal software use by businesses, and then works with the courts to prosecute violators caught with such software. BSA often works on tips from disgruntled or recently fired employees of companies that do not follow the letter-of-the-law in their software ownership. The organization boasts of some impressive busts and collects damages from convicted offenders (to compensate the publishers — or to enrich their organization?).
After learning of the volume of unauthorized software in my class, I reminded the students that such piracy is theft, pure and simple, and that they are honorable people in every other aspect of their lives (though a five-foot carved tiki at our local Trader Joe’s was stolen last week). I reminded them that they don’t steal food from the grocery, gasoline from the gas station, books from the bookstore, or supplies from local art stores. I suggested that they decline the next offer of “free” software from a friend or classmate. It’s hard to turn down such offers, but in the long run, it is the only solution that will stem the tide of illegal software among our student populations. The students must learn to say “No, thank you.”
And, as people entering the business community, students must develop a sense of ethical behavior that is fair to their suppliers and customers alike. We don’t tolerate theft in other forms in our business lives, and we shouldn’t tolerate it from our graduates. I encourage all students and teachers to work to abolish software piracy through ethical behavior and tighter control over the software in our care.