Lloyd Kowalski violated Microsoft’s copyright without much hesitation. The veteran Philadelphia computer teacher (who asked that his name be changed) never expected to be punished. He didn’t even think what he’d done was wrong. When he installed his schoo
Lloyd Kowalski violated Microsoft’s copyright without much hesitation. The veteran Philadelphia computer teacher (who asked that his name be changed) never expected to be punished. He didn’t even think what he’d done was wrong. When he installed his school’s only copy of Microsoft Office on several teachers’ computers last January, he figured he was doing a good deed — helping frustrated teachers, making their school days just a little bit less overwhelming.
"It was a minor violation," he says. "We use AppleWorks for word processing but I put Office on their computers because they couldn’t read the Microsoft Word attachments they kept getting from the district’s central office. It was easy to do, and it made sense since our schools are in dire financial straits."
But this spring, Kowalski discovered that Microsoft didn’t care much for his reasoning. Following an anonymous tip, the software giant launched an investigation of Philadelphia’s entire public school system. Microsoft threatened to sue unless the administrative offices and all 264 schools conducted an audit and proved that every piece of installed Microsoft software had a valid license.
The district is still completing the process, but on May 16 — just before final exams — teachers and administrators received a letter from the central office commanding them to complete an inventory of every computer, every piece of installed software and every Microsoft license or proof of purchase. The memo also emphasized the serious stakes: "In an effort to avoid potential liability to the District in a time when finances are tight, we need all schools and offices to complete … the computer and software inventory," it said. "Failure to meet the deadlines will result in your school or office being out of compliance, which will cost the school or office a substantial amount of money."
The district’s chief information officer, Ron Daniels, says Microsoft has been "very supportive" during the audit, helping to trace licenses in its database. For its part, Microsoft representatives say that the audit is simply standard procedure. Working alone or through the Business Software Alliance (BSA), an industry wide enforcement group, Microsoft has been fighting the spread of illegally copied software for over a decade. Its most common targets are companies that copy software and then resell it illegally, but it’s not unusual for urban, low-income schools to end up caught in the net too. But such schools aren’t being singled out, say Microsoft and BSA attorneys. Once discovered — typically through tips that come via hotlines like 1-800-RU-LEGIT — they’re treated just like any other violator, says Jenny Blank, BSA’s director of enforcement.