Nearly everyone in the US is familiar with those cheesy MPAA ads sometimes shown in movie theaters: "You wouldn't steal a car. You wouldn't steal a handbag. You wouldn't steal a television. You wouldn't steal a DVD. Pirating downloaded films is stealing!" They are supposed to remind viewers that piracy is bad and deter them from going home to download a high-res copy of the movie they're about to watch. While it's unclear whether the MPAA's ad campaign has caused any significant reduction in piracy, software makers want to get in on the action anyway. The Business Software Alliance—which represents a number of well-known software companies like Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, Intel, Adobe, Symantec, McAfee, and others—has launched its own ad campaign this week, aimed toward college students, called B4UCopy. Get it? B4… yeah.
The BSA actually appears to have taken into consideration how college students think (on some level) when creating B4UCopy. Instead of putting a huge emphasis on how software piracy hurts the software industry, it only makes a slight mention of the losses they suffer due to piracy. Instead, the site puts a much larger focus on how students themselves might be hurt by piracy—how does it affect them? Students might be duped by getting defective or outdated software, burned by software that turns out to contain viruses or steal personal information, "bounced" by being locked out of their college or university networks, "booted" by eligible employers if they are caught pirating software, and busted with jail time or heavy fines, says the BSA.
Of course, no anti-piracy campaign would be complete without an educational video about the consequences of software piracy. The B4UCopy video contains observations from poor college kids on why they pirate, a testimonial from an emotion-ridden student who was arrested for piracy just before college graduation, and other testimonials from law enforcement and software makers.
"Many students say they don't realize they are doing anything wrong when they illegally download computer software or swap copyrighted digital files with their classmates," said BSA VP of public affairs Diane Smiroldo in a statement. "In reality, these students are stealing and breaking the law, which could have serious repercussions on their future."
The BSA says that, according to a recent survey of 1,052 college and university students, over half of students who say they have downloaded unlicensed software have experienced "negative consequences" after doing so. Some of those consequences include an increase in spyware and viruses (55 percent), hard drive crashes (20 percent), and file loss (18 percent).
The BSA claimed in 2006 that the software industry lost $34 billion due to piracy worldwide. We weren't alone in pointing out the problems with that figure, however, nothing that the method that the BSA and IDC used to calculate those numbers were based on the estimated retail value of pirated software. In order to accurately calculate losses, the organizations would have to guess at how much software is pirated, how much would have been purchased had it not been pirated, and what the relationship of legit sales to pirated installations is. Clearly, even the software industry isn't entirely sure how much is actually being lost to piracy.
Will the BSA's new campaign make a dent in software piracy among college students? It might, if it's able to emphasize some of the more immediate risks such as viruses and spyware. Anecdotally, I know several (perhaps not-so-bright) students whose PCs have been subject to virus takeovers so bad that they had to resort to reformatting their entire hard drives, thus losing everything on them. It was enough to scare a few of them straight, so the BSA might have some luck. Then again, being told about the consequences never quite drives the point home as hard as experiencing them firsthand.