Marquette campaign attempts to raise piracy awareness

In a continuing trend of universities combating digital copyright infringement, Marquette University has allied itself with a consortium of software companies in order to educate students on the moral faults of software piracy.

The Washington, D.C.-based consortium, called the Business Software Alliance, studies software piracy, educates computer users and lobbies for stricter intellectual property restrictions. It began its Define the Line campaign to educate the public about the ills of software piracy in October 2004, according to Debbi Mayster, the group’s communications manager. Marquette officials contacted the alliance about a partnership, which was announced in May 2005, according to a Marquette press release.

The Marquette student newspaper, the Tribune, reported that UGS, a software company that is a member of the Business Software Alliance, made a $30.5 million software donation to Marquette in 2004. The following year, one of UGS’ representatives contacted a Marquette faculty member, who recommended the university contact the BSA about a partnership. But in an e-mail to The Herald, Marquette’s Director of Information Technology Support Services Lynn Gunn wrote that there was “no relationship between these two events.”

The Define the Line campaign has an extensive Web site that provides studies of software piracy among students, a quiz on what is and is not illegal in downloading software and the top 10 “reasons why students shouldn’t copy or use unlicensed software.” The BSA has also provided Marquette with Define the Line posters for common areas as well as bookmarks and brochures for incoming students. Also, students purchasing laptops through the university will receive Define the Line materials with their computer, Mayster said.

Some faculty also elected to have materials on hand or to distribute them in classes, Gunn wrote. She also said that a few students from the business school had requested materials for a class assignment.

According to Alex Hermanny, president of the Marquette student government, the student government has chosen not to become involved with the campaign. “As much as software piracy is a priority to stop because it is against the law, it is not one of the things that student government is taking a leading role in,” he said.

Hermanny said that over the summer administrators had been pursuing student groups that would be interested in integrating information from the campaign into their programming. At one point, the Greek community was approached to see if it would sponsor a “battle of the bands” that would serve to educate people on the appropriate ways that one can record and distribute music, though that never came to fruition.

“There’s been nothing that has been done actively by any student organization to adopt anything to help out the Define the Line campaign,” he said.

The campaign, which is still in its early stages, does not play any role in students’ daily lives, Hermanny said. “The Define the Line at Marquette has not materialized as anything larger than a series of news briefs that we have received in our e-mail.”

Marquette’s partnership with an outside organization represents a recent trend among institutions struggling to curb piracy without infringing on student’s rights. Brown partnered with Napster this year in an attempt to give students an alternative to downloading music illegally. Pennsylvania State University did the same in 2003.

Marquette’s partnership is unique, however, because it focuses more on software piracy than on music and movie theft, even though the latter two are a much more widespread problem among college students, according to Brown’s Director of Information Technology Security Connie Sadler.

Within the Brown community, illegal sharing of music continues to be the largest source of complaints. According to Sadler, approximately 70 percent of companies’ complaints to Computing and Information Services are about illegal downloading of music. 20 percent are complaints about pirated movies, and 10 percent of complaints are about software.

The BSA maintains that while it focuses on software piracy, its information applies to all forms of copyright infringement. Its Web site says two-thirds of college students would consider downloading pirated software and that just 32 percent of students are paying for software “most of the time.”

Beyond its partnership with Napster, Sadler said CIS has taken various steps to educate students on illegal file downloads. Relevant videos and information are online as well as on the USB flash drives given during orientation to all first-years this fall. In addition, RISD General Counsel Steve McDonald, who Sadler said is “an expert” on file sharing and illegal downloading, will be speaking as part of a panel discussion on Oct. 13 in the Sharpe Refectory.

Both the BSA and Sadler confirmed that neither organization has contacted the other about any partnership, though the BSA is planning to mail out informational materials to many colleges around the country, including Brown.

The BSA is composed of dues-paying members including software giants such as IBM, Microsoft and Apple, and has an “enforcement arm” with detectives who investigate companies that use unlicensed software. Such a company would be forced to pay the BSA a fine for infringing the copyright law. The BSA does not and has no plans to litigate individuals, Mayster said. The BSA reinvests some of its revenues from its investigative activities to fund the Define the Line campaign.