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The FAST show comes to school

The Federation Against Software Theft is advising schools on curriculum material. There are certainly many lessons to be learned
Written by Leader , Contributor on

Fresh from threatening teachers over software licensing, FAST Corporate Services is now busy telling our children what to think. It would be good if it sorted out its basic numeracy first — one press release extolling the campaign uses BSA-sponsored figures from an IDC study which The Economist has labelled dubious and exaggerated. It could do with some work on its English, too. Theft and piracy are not the same things as licence infringement, much as it suits some parts of the industry to say otherwise.

On the other hand, the exercise may be more productive than the Federation might like. Children know what's right and wrong, they know what's legal and illegal, and — crucially — they know that the two sets of concepts are not necessarily identical. They're also exceptionally sensitive to cant and unfairness.

It would be interesting to see what the FAST material says about free and open source software, which we have always considered to be uniquely well suited to education. It is its own best argument: it relies on intellectual property law for its existence, just as much as anything proprietary, but begs to be copied and given away.

A smart student will hold up a CD of Windows XP together with one of Linux, and ask why one is larded about with criminalising restrictions –— you want to delete me from one computer and put me on another? Evildoer! — while the other simply says "Share me with those who'll share me again." A smart student will ask "How does this software work? Show me." A smart student will say "That software is good, but I can make it better. Let me do so." A smart student will say "As an IT manager of tomorrow, I want to make absolutely sure I don't contravene any licensing conditions. Therefore, I will choose licensing conditions that are very difficult to contravene." These are not ways of thinking that the Federation espouses: they are ideas well worth the thought.

There's nothing wrong with schools using outside, real world resources for curriculum material, provided those sources are actually part of the real world. Accuracy and objectivity must come first, not propaganda. Those who would take up the Federation's kind offer of help should remember the anecdotal saying about another organisation devoted to proselytising — "Give me a boy until he's seven, and he's mine for life."

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