FAST should be taught a lesson

The Federation Against Software Theft thinks the education sector needs a wake-up call. In fact, it's the other way around

The Federation Against Software Theft (FAST), which these days refers to itself as "The Federation" just in case you're in any doubt as to how important it is, went back to school this week in an attempt to educate the education sector about the evils of software theft.

Its message was clear: "If head teachers, school governors and even LEAs allow the use of illegal software then it may be a fast track to a criminal record."

In an announcement bulging with self-righteousness, "The Federation" underlined its threat (and made clear that this is a threat) with the launch of Operation Tracker.

The last thing that head teachers, school governors and LEAs need right now is a threat from a profit-making organisation masquerading as the saviour of civilisation. And the last thing any civilisation needs is for its teachers to be criminalised and thrown into jail.

FAST's ham-fisted approach to education displays a remarkable failure to grasp the first principles of how to exert influence. Any teacher could tell them that if you threaten to come down heavily on a child for failing to do something they don't see as a priority, the best response you can hope for is a flicked 'V' sign. If you want to influence people, get them on your side to begin with; threatening people just alienates them.

FAST should be more careful or it will find it gets a big 'V' sign flicked right back at it, in the form of increasing use of free and open source software in schools. The amount of open source software for schools is increasing in both variety and quality. Aside from the Linux operating system and office suites such as OpenOffice.org, there are products such as ATutor, Dokeos, Interact, Moodle and Site@School. There are organisations ready to provide help and advice for schools thinking of a move to free and open source software: The Open Source Consortium; The Birmingham-based Open Advantage; the Cutter Project; and SchoolForge UK to name a few.

The education sector is a huge market that currently spends vast sums on software licences from FAST members. Yet FAST's approach indicates a deep-rooted belief, verging on the arrogant, that the education sector needs "The Federation".

Certainly FAST's current approach cannot have been calculated to build a long-term relationship based on mutual support and respect. What it will do is bring closer the time when the education sector learns its most valuable lesson yet: That FAST needs it, not the other way round.

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