Fifth- and sixth-grade students at Waples Mill Elementary School got a lesson in pirates on Friday, but not the eye-patch-wearing, rum-drinking variety.
“I fight pirates,” said Bob Kruger, vice president of enforcement for Business Software Alliance, a Washington-based company working toward protecting intellectual property on the Internet and making cyberspace safe.
“I suspect a lot of you don’t believe me,” Kruger said to a small theater full of students. “Piracy is a word used to describe people who take other people’s intellectual property without asking for permission,” he said.
KRUGER EXPLAINED that intellectual property is an idea a person has for something, like a song, poem or computer program, that has been written down or somehow created.
“It’s a little harder to protect intellectual property than physical property,” he said. “So why don’t we just let everyone have it? Because we want there to be more of it.
“It takes a lot of time to create a software program for your computer,” he said. “If it were OK for everyone to have the program for free, the people who made it wouldn’t get paid. Do you think they’d want to make more?” he asked.
The same is true of movies, music, video games, books and art, he said.
Intellectual property is protected through copyright law, Kruger said, and if someone uses something that is protected under copyright law without permission, he is violating that law and can get into trouble.
“There are license agreements on software programs, movies, CDs,” he said. “A license agreement says you have permission to install the program on your computer. That’s OK. But if you give it to someone else to install on their computer, that’s not OK.”
In some situations, permission is not needed to copy a program or use information, Kruger said.
“Sometimes people create things they want you to have for free,” he said. “That’s called 'freeware,' and you can make as many copies of it as you want. It was the creator’s decision” to let anyone have it, he said.
“If something’s been around for a long time, like the plays of William Shakespeare or the art of Leonardo da Vinci, it falls into the realm of public domain, and everyone can have it,” he said.
“If I’m doing a report for school, like a few lyrics from a song, that would be considered fair use, and since I’m using it for an educational purpose and not using the whole song, you don’t need the artist’s permission to use it,” he said.
Kruger warned students that using file-sharing Web sites to download music without paying for it — sites like Kazaa, Bearshare and Limewire — can sometimes cause problems with their home computers in addition to being illegal.
“A lot of those sites don’t have permission to download those songs,” he said. “Some files that you download might not have only the song you want but a virus as well. That can mess up your computer pretty badly,” he said.
“Not only that, but you could get into trouble. There was a 12-year-old girl from New York City that got sued for downloading songs, and it created a big problem for her and her family,” Kruger said.
BSA PUT together the school presentation to reach students at a time when they’re impressionable enough to learn to respect the Internet and intellectual property, Kruger said.
“You can’t get to these kids too early,” he said. “If you wait any longer, attitudes and behaviors will form, and it’s much harder to reach them.”
The students that are looking to get free music today will be looking for free software in 10 years, he said.
“We feel it’s important for kids to have a sense of respect and ethics,” said Jennifer Niccolls, technology specialist from Waples Mill. “I think they understand the concepts, and they were especially concerned about the music."
Teachers at Waples Mill are interested and concerned about the students being able to correctly cite and use an Internet source on a paper as well, Niccolls said.
“We want to teach the kids how to credit sources. It’s just as easy to copy and paste a Web address into a paper,” she said.
“I think it’s a concern at all schools,” she said. “Teachers and parents are thinking and talking about it.”
Librarian Wendy Post said students need to learn how to use the Internet correctly and safely.
“My goal is to teach kids how to find information online, but the biggest problem to overcome is how to carefully find the information in a safe way,” she said. Search engines like Google are geared more toward adults, and if a student were to use it, he may come across a Web site with inappropriate material.
“There’s a Web site called ‘Tekmom.com’ that was created by a teacher from Fairfax County that’s just a list of child-friendly and safe Web sites,” Post said. She’s also teaching students that not all Web sites can be trusted for accuracy.
“There’s no such thing as the Internet police to make sure what’s online is accurate, so we teach them how to evaluate a site,” Post said. “We tell them to always look for an author. If there’s no author listed, maybe the person who wrote it isn’t proud of what they did.”
The computers in the library have a filtering system developed by the Fairfax County Public School system, which is set up to deny access to any site that may not be appropriate for the students.
“The students know that if they go onto a Web site that makes them uncomfortable, they need to let us know. We report it to the district, and they check and adjust the filters,” Post said.