Do you have pirates in your classroom? No, not one-eyed swashbucklers stealing gold and jewels, but students who illegally copy or download copyrighted materials, including software and Internet content. "Possibly the most pervasive form of cheating, electronic piracy has lost its taboo," says David Callahan in The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead (Harcourt, 2004).
Part of the problem is an "everybody does it" mentality. A new poll from Harris Interactive found that a majority of youth are aware that digital media files are copyrighted, yet many of them admit to downloading files anyway. "When 'everybody does it,' or imagines that everybody does it, a cheating culture has emerged," says Callahan. The challenge for educators is to convey clear messages to students to prevent a cheating culture from becoming pervasive in school.
First and foremost, students must understand that copying or downloading copyrighted digital works without paying for them or without explicit permission from the creator is stealing--no different than going into a store and shoplifting a software program, book or magazine from the shelf. You can help your students understand that it's not okay to take someone else's creative work product without paying for it or having their permission says Bob Kruger, who leads anti-piracy programs for the Business Software Alliance. Though terms like "copyright" and "intellectual property" may be difficult to convey to students, the most powerful way to connect with them may be to tie cyber-ethics to their own inherent creativity. Students create things all the time, from artwork and music to essays, stories and poems. "Show students how copyright and intellectual property laws relate to them by explaining that, just as they wouldn't want someone taking or using their creative work without their permission, neither do software programmers or others who have created such works," Kruger suggests.
Students also can benefit from an explanation of the economics involved in creating and selling creative works and how piracy impacts those economics. This approach helps overcome the misconception that piracy doesn't hurt anyone. Ironically, piracy may hurt the pirates. When piracy prevents software developers and video game creators from getting back the investment they've made on the works they've already created, they may scale back on creating anything new, thereby reducing the number of available software packages and game--"a bleak prospect for most 21st-century kids," says Kruger.
Students also need to understand the consequences of violating copyright laws, including potential legal action against pirates by the creators or organizations that represent them (witness the recent lawsuits by the Recording Industry Association of America against people who illegally uploaded and shared music files over the Internet). …