Several years ago, I gave a talk at the National Law School of India in Bangalore. While at the school, I was informed that it had adopted a zero tolerance policy toward pirated software. The policy had not led to widespread use of licensed proprietary software, however. Instead, the school – widely regarded as the finest law school in India – had gone almost completely open source. The India experience came to mind as I read a release from the Business Software Alliance announcing that it had settled a claim against the Chinook School Division in Swift Current, Saskatchewan that will see the school division pay over $190,000 for the use of unlicensed software.
While the BSA presumably hopes that the significant settlement sends a strong message on the need for schools to fully license the software they use, the Chinook School Division has the opportunity to use the settlement to send a second message by rethinking its software use. Rather than investing thousands of dollars in proprietary software licenses, why not move toward an open source model where case studies show dramatic cost savings and governments increasingly promote its potential. Schools should not be infringing copyright through the use of unlicensed software, but there is a better way to save money and respect the law.