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Are you a pirate?

Students who think that what they download on to their desktop illegally is private should think twice

Students who copy songs, movies or software or “share” them with friends, be warned: you can face the music. 

According to surveys covering more than 100 tertiary students, downloading content illegally is a routine activity.

According to The Straits Times in 2006, a survey done by a polytechnic revealed that only five per cent of the students surveyed paid for the songs downloaded from the Internet.

In another survey at another campus, respondents believed that over 85 per cent of their schoolmates owned copies of illegal software, which ranges from Operating Systems (OS) such as Windows Vista, to the more specialised  Adobe Dreamweaver, a web-developing programme.

“No matter how you phrase it and try to glorify the act, the fact is that using illegal downloads amounts to stealing,” quipped Lau Hsien Tze, 18, a third-year student from the Business Information Technology (BIT) course at Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP). He says he does not possess any pirated software.

Mrs Pek-Tan Lian Kuan, a manager with the NP’s Computer Centre, is puzzled why anyone would resort to using counterfeit software despite institutions providing “all software necessary for courses and work”. 

“We are very concerned regarding this issue,” she said, stressing it is wrong to use illegal downloads. 

Less hassle?

Third-year Accountancy student Aloysius Monteiro, 19, suggested that the reason students turn to pirated software is because downloading software is “a breeze” compared with going to a school computer service centre to fill up forms before downloading.

Popular software, usually downloaded illegally using the peer to peer (P2P) programme BitTorrent, includes programmes such as Acrobat Reader, Visual Basic.Net, Microsoft Office as well as Windows Vista Home Edition. 

If obtained legally, these could have cost as much as  $2,100,  more than the price of a low-end laptop.

Some schools restrict the provision of the latest versions of some software only to freshmen students rather than those in the second, or final years. Students who want the latest versions on their laptop have to look for alternatives on their own.

Other students said a motive for hanging on to the pirated software is that they want to use them for work even after they stop studying. Under school rules, students have to surrender all softwares when they graduate or leave school.

Shawn Lee, 19, a third-year student pursuing a Diploma in Multimedia and Animation (MMA), said a solution is to get schools to educate students to be more aware of the need to respect Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

“During all my time as a student, I have never been subjected to any checks for pirated software on my laptop. It’s easy for pirates to get away scot-free.”

Shawn Lee, 19, third-year Multimedia and Animation (MMA) student

“During all my time as a student, I have never been subjected to any checks for pirated software on my laptop. It’s easy for pirates to get away scot-free,” he said. 

Schools should also restrict the use of Limewire or Kazaa – P2P sharing software popular among students – which allow them to download copyrighted material illegally online. 

Students are often not aware of what constitutes piracy exactly. 

Aloysius may know that downloading software from the Internet or from a CD is wrong but he does not know that passing on installation files to friends for their use is a wilful infringement of IPR, a criminal offence.

Meanwhile, Kenedict Chua, 20, a third-year Business Studies student, said that he does not know it is wrong to copy from a CD.

“It’s not that I don’t care about the law,” he said. “But I believe the risk is manageable if you are not downloading excessively. If you do not allow your computer to stay online when you don’t need to, you would not be sharing music and movies with others when you don’t want to.” 

Legal action

But claiming a right to privacy is a poor defence for downloading copyrighted content, as the case of Odex shows.

Odex, a distributor for Japanese animé, sued successfully to get Internet service providers SingNet and StarHub to surrender the identities of 2,000 people who allegedly downloaded Odex cartoons illegally. Pacific Internet was also ordered to do the same later in an appeal. So far, The Straits Times reported on 21 July 2008 that 100 people have settled the suit against them.

In 2006, the Recording Industry Association of Singapore (RIAS) also filed 8,000 cases against illegal music downloaders in Singapore and 16 other countries. Most of these people, said the CEO of RIAS in an interview with Channel NewsAsia, were aged between 13 and 25.

Mr Selvaraj Chidambarnam, a Media Law lecturer with NP’s School of Film & Media Studies, said bluntly, “You are held responsible for whatever you do with your personal computer, no matter if you know or do not know what your computer is doing without your permission. 

“It is no defence to say ‘I did not do it, my computer did.’”

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