When a Colleague Is Wrong
"No, I didn't," Joe responded, "but it doesn't do me any good. Our department owns only two copies of the software so we would be in violation of the copyright laws."
"Oh, get with it Joe," Tim went on. "In my opinion, you have the right to use the software as you see fit. After all, you're using it for educational purposes, aren't you? You are not selling the copies. I take the position that spending more than $500 for just one copy gives us the inherent right as educators to copy the software as many times as we need. We have the software up and running on our network and the students love it!"
Joe thought for a moment, trying to decide the best way to respond to his friend.
The AECT Code of Ethics—Section 3, Principle 9
There was no question in Joe's mind that Tim was not only breaking copyright laws, but was well aware of the infringement. While it is this latter issue that raises the ethical questions, the former issue raises legal ones, irrespective of the ethics involved. Many educators take quick defense by citing the "fair use" provision of the Copyright Act of 1976 without even reading the act or realizing that duplicating copyrighted materials, even for educational activities, is severely limited. We should all know that ignorance of the law can never be used as a legal defense. However, Tim seems to have reconciled himself to the idea that it is perfectly acceptable to make illegal copies of software when his actions are in service to his students.
Joe has several options open to him. He could pass Tim's attitude off as amusingly cavalier, casually end the conversation, and then forget the whole episode. He should, however, try to influence his friend by explaining the legal and ethical issues involved. There are two extremes in taking this route. He can use the "sand paper approach" by hinting that his friend is at risk by telling an amusing, but true, anecdote about a small church being successfully sued for copyright infringement for copying hymn books. Or, he could employ the "power saw approach" by threatening to turn Tim in to the appropriate authorities. Each approach is bound to have different effects on their friendship. If you were Joe, and subject to the AECT Code of Professional Ethics, what do you think you should do?
Lloyd P. Rieber