Education, Software Piracy, and the Law

Abstract This paper is intended as a primer for copyright law in the form of a short story. An elementary school teacher illegitimately copies a piece of software for educational purposes and is discovered. Issues such as the fair use doctrine, copyright law, and cyberlaw are covered. The analytical section provides a realistic legal defense for the fictional situation that drives the paper.

My name is ___ and I teach 6th grade mathematics at Hightstown Middle School in Hightstown, New Jersey. I can\'t say I particularly enjoy my job, but I still give it my best. I do enjoy spending time with my students, and any occasion when we can all laugh together is a good one. Most students who pass through school here will go on to work at low-income jobs for the rest of their lives. The few students who do seem to have potential for a bright future rarely achieve one.

About five years ago, our school received a number of outdated computers and a small grant to install Internet access from the nearby Armand Hammer Corporation. We converted a classroom downstairs into our first-ever computer laboratory, and the kids couldn\'t get enough. Very few of them had used a computer before, and of those, few actually owned one. Even today, a lot of kids know what a computer is but lack basic knowledge about its use. Six months ago, one of our outstanding students, Jake Meyers, told me that he wanted to make websites for a living. I was enamored, and decided to help him as best as I could.

We spent our after school hours for the next month learning HTML together. Jake\'s first website was about Pokemon cards, one of his many passions. Jake and I made a page for each of his favorite characters, found pictures of them on the Internet, and posted the site to a free server. His next idea was to create original pictures depicting battles between the Pokemon, but because our district could not afford any drawing software, we were unable to do it. When Jake began to feel discouraged, I resolved to get my hands on a professional quality program. My wife, who is a secretary at an advertising firm, was able to get a copy of Adobe Illustrator for me. I installed the program on one of the lab computers, and Jake and I once again spent hours designing his imaginary Pokemon haven.

Unfortunately, the action came back to haunt me when one of my colleagues, Maureen Shea, dropped in on one of our sessions about two months ago. She asked if the school had finally allocated enough money to start upgrading the lab. I responded that no, I had borrowed the software from my wife and installed it on one computer. I didn\'t think much of telling Maureen, but she took the event more seriously than I imagined. As part of the hiring process, teachers are required to report any legal transgressions they observe. If the event had been ignored, Maureen was equally liable for the infraction. Acting on this fear, she reported the illegitimate software to the School Board.

Within a week, I received a letter requesting a period of voluntary leave while the Board could investigate. In my initial testimony before the seven members, I related the exact story recounted here. Though they did not disagree with my actions from a practical standpoint, they asked me to prepare a legal defense. Apparently, they were legally bound to report the incident to Adobe, and I was to research copyright law for a possible hearing with the company. All of a sudden, I had a new project to work on. I spent most of my days in front of a computer in the basement after school hours. As for Jake, I only saw him once over the next two weeks; it seemed like I had let him down. There was nothing I could do, because I could not help him without first helping myself.

After only a few minutes of research, it was apparent that much of the case would focus on the Fair Use Doctrine, passed in 19765 as part of a major revision to copyright law. At that time, technological advances