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Beware of pirates

Schools are unwittingly breaking software copyright laws - action that risks a costly lawsuit, warns Karen Thornton.

GOVERNORS are turning a blind eye to computer software piracy in their schools - putting them in danger of legal action.

A new survey published last week found that two in five schools could be illegally copying computer programs for home and school use.

But, despite governors being accountable for ensuring software is legal and licensed, only 14 per cent of the 1,550 schools responding to the survey said their governing body had discussed such issues.

Worryingly, 45 per cent of the teachers who co-ordinate schools' information and communications technology said they had no one to turn to if they had concerns about the legality of software.

The survey was carried out by the British Educational Suppliers Association, the Educational Software Providers Association, and computer giant Microsoft.

The findings suggest widespread confusion about software issues, with:

Two in five schools saying it was acceptable to copy a single licensed program for use in the classroom. This is illegal.

A fifth saying it was acceptale to copy software for home use.

Half of primaries and a quarter of secondaries ignorant of the penalties for using unlicensed software.

However, the survey found that north of the border awareness of licensing issues is much higher.

Scottish schools were more informed about the penalties for using unlicensed software and gave much more support to their computing co-ordinators.

The software industry concedes that some of the confusion in schools is the result of over-complicated licensing arrangements.

Dominic Savage, the chief executive of BESA, said: "The survey clearly illustrates a lack of understanding on software licensing on a widespread basis, levels of confusion, and inconsistent approaches across the UK.

"There are very clear roles for both education and industry on such a major issue."

He added: "The association is working through ESPA, its special interest group of software suppliers, to encourage more standardisation of licences and better promotion of the facts to schools."

Microsoft has introduced a simpler licensing program for schools. See http:www.microsoft.comukeducationsa for more details.

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