Marquette Joins BSA’s DefineTheLine.com Initiative

Marquette’s Announcement

Marquette sent out the following announcement yesterday:

“Marquette is participating in the launch of “Define the Line,” a national program aimed at discouraging illegal sharing and downloading of software. The program calls upon students, faculty and staff to ensure they are properly and legally sharing and downloading software and other digital copyrighted work including music and movies.

According to a study conducted by Internet Piracy on Campus, only 32 percent of students are paying for software most of the time, meaning potentially 68 percent of students who are potentially using commercial software illegally.

Marquette is the first university in the country to implement this program. “Define the Line” is designed to educate students about using commercial software legally, respecting copyrighted works online, and understanding the impact of software theft on everyone. The Business Software Alliance, the foremost organization dedicated to promoting a safe and legal digital world, is a co-sponsor of the program to raise awareness about these important issues with university students, faculty and staff. Go to http://www.definetheline.com for more information.

Marquette will implement this program through a variety of outreach efforts aimed at students, faculty and staff. Other schools considering this program are Princeton University, Cornell University, Miami University (Ohio), Tulane University, the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary.”

Questions About the Announcement

This announcement raises a number of questions. First, universities rarely like to go in front of the pack by themselves. Why did Marquette step up to the plate when no one else has? (I also thought it was odd that Marquette listed several schools thinking about joining). I noticed that BSA announced the “Define the Line” program in October 2004. Why did it take 7 months to line up a single school to participate in the program?

Second, the press release is vague about exactly what Marquette is doing for the BSA (and vice-versa). However, assuming that Marquette does anything proactively for BSA, this program will represent an unprecedented level of cooperation between a university and the BSA. What’s in it for Marquette? Is Marquette doing this out of the goodness of its heart? Because it’s “the right thing to do?” Is BSA providing some consideration?

A Critique of the DefineTheLine.com Website

Meanwhile, the material on the definetheline.com website is a joke. The ambition is understandable—give students bright-line rules so they know what they can and can’t do. The problem is that copyright isn’t susceptible to bright-line interpretations. Consider the questions in the definetheline.com “quiz” about whether certain behavior is legal or illegal:

Q1: “Installing the latest commercial software program from a friend – just to try it out for a while.”

BSA’s answer: ILLEGAL. My answer: installing the program would be an infringement, but we then have to look at the various defenses and exclusions. For example, in some situations, this installation could/should be fair use. If a student gave me a bright-line answer to this fact pattern on an exam, he/she would get an F.

Q2: “Loading the latest version of a program on your computer when you already have an older version installed.”

BSA’s answer: LEGAL. (I got this question “wrong” per BSA). I don’t think they mean what they say. If a student has Windows 2000 and then upgrades to Windows XP, then per Q1, that should be “ILLEGAL” per BSA. I think what BSA meant to say was “loading the latest version of a program when you’ve licensed the upgrade,” but that’s not the question they asked.

Meanwhile, BSA’s explanation seems just wrong to me. It says: “Software programs are constantly being updated. When you install legal software on your computer or network you are eligible to receive the benefits of upgraded versions of the software. Using unlicensed software doesn’t allow you to receive updates or the new versions of the software from the software publisher.” I think the bolded language is simply not universally true. I honestly cannot figure out what BSA is thinking here.

Top Reasons to Do What BSA Wants

BSA also makes its sales/scare pitch for why students should pay for software/not use unlicensed software with a top 10 list of reasons that I will paraphrase:

10: Software vendors price-discriminate to the student’s benefit

9: No viruses

8: If we catch you, you’ll be financially destroyed

7: Your school might kick you out

6: Fewer computer crashes/lost term papers

5: Licensed software “makes a computer run faster and smoother” [I’m not sure how this differs from points 9 and 6. Licensed software is like premium unleaded gasoline?]

4: No employer will hire you because you’re a damn thief

3: If you license software, you’ll make the economy stronger, which means that you’ll get a high-paying job when you graduate

2: If you illegally download software, you’ll be an unemployed loser and you’ll have to live with your parents the rest of your life

1: You will ascend to heaven if you license software. If you don’t, well, you know where sinners go for an eternity…

UPDATE: Chronicle of Higher Education picks up the story (also scratching its head wondering what Marquette has committed to) (subscription required).

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