FAST accused of indoctrinating children

Organisations that promote free and open software in schools have criticised the inclusion of material from a proprietary lobbying group into a school’s IT syllabus
Written by Andrew Donoghue, Contributor

The Federation against Software Theft (FAST) has been roundly criticised by open source advocates after revealing that it is integrating its software copyright message into an academic qualification.

In a statement released on Wednesday, FAST said that it has been working with the Thomas Telford School in Shropshire to provide content for the school's new GCE (AS/A-level) in Applied ICT.

"Through our experience in educating organisations about effective software compliance, we have identified that many IT managers are still unclear about the implications of illegal software on their network and copyright issues," said Chris Minchin, membership manager at FAST Corporate Services. "Being involved in developing the new GCE has given us a great opportunity to work with IT managers of the future and help to build a strong foundation on which to develop their skills."

Minchin’s involvement with the school included taking part in a video session discussing the ins and outs of software management, which has been developed into online learning materials for the students.

But Mark Taylor, president of the Open Source Consortium, a group that represents the interests of open source in the public sector, said that when a organisation has to resort to "indoctrination of children" to promote its cause then it’s usually a sign that something is wrong.

"Schools would be better advised educating their pupils on the value of free speech and discussing the relative economic and practical benefits of open source and proprietary production methods than intimidating them with counter-productive propaganda from big businesses," said Taylor.

Paul Jenkins, from open source consultancy SimpleICT, said the FAST relationship with Thomas Telford was "comical and enraging at the same time".

Robert Cullen, Thomas Telford’s IT director, said that the school had been working with FAST for six to eight months and had even looked at joining the organisation, but found the fees prohibitively expensive.

Cullen added that his school favours a more gentle approach to communicating the message about software licensing to its pupils. "We are big believers in common sense. We try and do things in a low-key way. I think most people are aware when they are infringing somebody’s copyright. From a personal point of view, and I am not speaking for the school here, I think that when people are too heavy handed about these things it can lead to problems," he told ZDNet UK.

The announcement of the relationship between FAST and Thomas Telford, follows another controversial scheme from the software group in May which threatened to take headteachers, schools and local education authorities (LEAs) to court if they are found to have any unauthorised software on their systems.

To underline its threat, FAST pointed out that it is running a process called Operation Tracker, which it calls the "CCTV of the Internet". The system enables the pressure group to trace file sharers by identifying their Internet connection.

Jenkins claimed that the profit-making organisations that FAST represents were simply looking for an easy target in deciding to go after schools.

John Lovelock, director general at The Federation Against Software Theft, said Thomas Telford School was setting a great example to other educational establishments.

"Software piracy has long been a headache for software authors and publishers and over the years, independent bodies, such as FAST, have been set up to combat the problem. By educating people on the laws that govern software licensing and use, we can raise awareness of the problem and continue to change the mindset of users to ultimately overcome piracy completely," said Lovelock.

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