back to article Can Microsoft teach tots digital-age virtue?

Earlier this month, word got out that Microsoft was funding its own intellectual property rights curriculum in schools. The reaction was understandably negative. The basis of Redmond's pitch was a small survey they sponsored where nearly half of the kids polled said they were unfamiliar with the rules and guidelines of using …


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  1. Colin Wilson

    Sir, me sir, me me !

    The question was wrong sir, it should read:

    Windows software:

    a) Does not have a warranty, guarantee, or service support.

    b) Violates intellectual property rights law.

    c) Can contaminate your computer with a virus.

    d) All of the above.

  2. Steve Roper
    Gates Horns

    Teach the kids to tell the pigs what they want to hear

    As I've posted elsewhere, all this sort of thing will do is teach the kids how to give evasive answers. Looking at the image on the last page, it looks like there is some kind of "credits" or "points" system involved, presumably where giving the correct answer wins you some points. Children are smart; they'll soon figure out how to max their score by giving the "right" answer, without necessarily believing it. What this "curriculum" doesn't tell kids is WHY breaking IP law is WRONG. How many parents, when telling their children not to do something, are confronted with "but why can't I?" And if the only answer the kids can see is "because we're the stinking rich controllers of everything you use and you have to give us your money to use it", kids will respond with "whatever you say sir" - and then go right on doing what they like.

    That's good. It will teach children how to dodge the law while looking like good citizens - something they'll need to survive the evil future we're facing.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Version 2.0 of...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open Source Software is:

    a) Inexpensive

    b) Better than commercially produced operating systems

    c) Can be copied freely.

    d) Causes great pains in Redmond, Washington

    e) All of the above.

    Well, someone had to do it!!

  5. Bob


    Any serious unit on IP issues must also include the concepts of open source, copyleft and the idea of a shared community resource. It also needs to include alternative models for artists (make money off the live performances) and how that could change the art and our consumption of it in the future. There are many many viewpoints and approaches, all of which conform to copyright laws.

  6. Jach


    This better not get into the schools. The kids need to learn about Fair Use, Open Source, the stupidities of copyright and patents (show them some patented masturbation-prevention technologies), how to use the Freedom of Information Act, the corruption of the RIAA, DRM/DMCA, how our election process works even though we now have the technology to count every single vote, how to use different operating systems besides Windows, how to find learning resources online... Okay, I better stop now myself. There's just loads of stuff the school's aren't teaching that ought to be taught.

  7. P. Lee
    Paris Hilton

    Confusion everywhere

    First of all, I would suggest that corporate sponsorship of academics is a bad start. There will always a tendency for attitudes and facilities to be dependent on the funding and for the organisation to lose its impartiality as a result. Since we are supposed to be teaching people how to think, having certain areas of thought "off-limits" is not a good start. This is bad enough when corporates provide free goods/services, but what benefit is there to the pupils to have a corporate provide the curriculum? Its a bad idea in principle.

    Judging from this article (and that isn't a great basis, I know) there is confusion about the difference between the law, market mechanisms and ethics. There seems to be a lumping together of "intellectual property" and "compensating artists". By copying music I almost certainly have broken the law, but only possibly have hurt the artist financially and the ethics of copying is only somewhat based on the preceding two issues and others too, such as the role of the public domain, motives for and the changing nature of, copyright law. Legality and ethics are rarely linked in the real world.

    Even the sample questions in the article were weasel-words. Using "Counterfeit" to mean "copy" is an archaic use of the word, according to The word is more commonly used to refer to something being passed off as something else with more value, e.g. fake gold coins, paper money. Counterfeit money has no intrinsic value because it can't be used to purchase things. Counterfeit software and music (as was indicated in the questions) works just as well as the original. Where the quality is lower (such as an mp3) there is rarely any illusion about what is being provided. These are "knock-offs" rather than counterfeit goods. Whereas counterfeit car parts and drugs may be dangerous and less functional than the original, pick up a copy of Windows in Bangkok and it will probably work even better than Microsoft's own version since it will have all the latest drivers and utilities which MS doesn't provide.

    Of course there are gangs in China, producing CD's, packaging etc which are counterfeit, but the software is actually Microsoft's - its just the packaging which is counterfeit. If I wrote some software which appeared to be Windows but which lacked Windows functionality and I tried to pass it off as Windows, that would be counterfeit in the usual sense of the word.

    All the talk about support, guarantee and warranties is rather like saying that it doesn't come with an AK47 to help you protect your home. True, but even if you got one with "real" Windows it may not do what you expect or be that useful in the hands of a child. A warranty is great for bicycles and toasters, not so useful for software.

    I'm not at all suggesting that there aren't ethical and legal issues which need to be resolved surrounding copyright infringement - there certainly are. However, having immensely powerful corporations with vested interests providing classroom material to over-worked teachers is not the way to deal with it.

    Paris, cos she's more sense and clear thought than this plan.

  8. system

    Gray aspects

    If you accept that there can be intellectual property, you are accepting that an idea can be owned. An idea being defined by the OED as a thought/mental impression/belief. Given that so much is covered by IP, chances are that any thought you have will not be original, and so will belong to somebody else.

    Aside from teaching kids to accept that others are allowed to own the contents of their heads, they are also teaching them the art of accounting the mafiaa way. Take your expected earnings, subtract what you actually earnt, treat the remainder as a loss. I lost over 10 squillion pounds last year under this method.

    Nobody loses money if I decide to not pay for a film, as that money was never theirs to begin with. Whether I decided not to pay by not buying the DVD or by downloading the DVD is irrelevant.

    Welcome to the future kids. All your thoughts (and cash) are belong to us!

  9. dreadful scathe
    Jobs Horns

    @steve roper

    well put ...

    the evidence for the damage caused by piracy is never really brought up - this has always made Microsoft appear evangelical, and who listens to the priesthood nowadays :)

  10. Eponymous Cowherd

    Microsoft teaching IP rights?

    A bit like Nellie Lovett teaching cookery.

  11. Jamie

    All to the trough please

    Does anyone else see anything wrong with the idea that big business is trying to teach the children ethics? Most of the software has been pirated and passed off as thier own innovation, they changed just enough so that it does not work correctly.

    That companies like CitiBank is trying to teach kids about handling money? When they make fortunes off the backs of people who cannot afford to get thier heads above water due to the interest rates they are charged.

    That makes almost as much sense as oil companies touting the benifits of a greener environment.

  12. Anonymous Coward


    "...needs to include alternative models for artists (make money off the live performances)..."

    <rant> That's what Guns'n'Roses are doing these days; they haven't brought out an album in over a decade. Right now, touring is the major earner for many bands, including many big names who could make a living off their recordings only a few years ago. This is in part because the bottom is falling out of CD/DVD sales; only very little of that is made up for by legal download sales.

    As a recording artist and songwriter myself, I have been impacted; some material I have rights in is being spread more and more -- my royalty payments go down and down. Something isn't quite right with that IMO.

    I do agree with the idea of "tasting" material, i.e., listen to a song before deciding to buy it. The problem arises when people taste indefinitely without paying the artist for his efforts. This discourages the artist, as I am sure you can imagine.

    Contrary to a common misconception, making music is actually hard work with long hours; you can't make an album these days by just sitting down for an afternoon to write it and then record it the next morning and take the rest of the week off. Though much of the material pushed by the big studios these days sounds like it was done that way.


  13. Spleen

    In the right hands

    So these Topics guys are using Microsoft to teach IP rights and An Inconvenient Truth to teach climate science. What next? Teaching WW2 history by showing them U-571?

    I understand that state schools are underfunded, but no education is preferable to indoctrination.

  14. Dunstan Vavasour


    I hate seeing the term "sharing" being used as a negative term.

    For young children, sharing goods is a virtue. Taking a packet of sweets into school and sharing them with the other children is to be encouraged. Sharing the world's wealth between the rich and the poor would make it a better world.

    But now we have big slogans: "file SHARING IS WRONG". Comes back to the issue of using the language of physical property: you are not sharing the file, because when someone else takes a copy you don't have any less of it; you are not stealing music because the person you got it from still has it. What you *are* doing is breaking a law which says that, even though you can make a copy of something, you may not. Teaching children falsehoods to promote your vested interest is not education, it is systematic deception.

  15. Jamie

    Applaude to Spleen

    Spleen stated it right in stating that this is not education but indoctrination.

    Sort of what all the different dictatorships have done throughout history.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    > What next? Teaching WW2 history by showing them U-571?

    You saw the photgraphs when the Allies in WW2 arrived at the concentration camps - no doubt. But did you learn that due to long range Allied air superiority that became available in 1944, distribution of anything in Germany after that time became very difficult, including medical supplies which could have reduced fatalities from the typhus epidemic of that winter?

    Your comment is too little too late. M$ are (as usual) not taking any great step in leadership or initiative here.

  17. Hugh McIntyre

    Re: Gray Aspects

    >> If you accept that there can be intellectual property, you are accepting

    >> that an idea can be owned.

    No, not a simple idea such as "I fancy a pint". But the result of days/weeks/years of development work are included, such as artwork that took time and effort to create, an OS or microprocessor design that took potentially hundreds of man years to develop, etc. It's not unreasonable that things like this that take a lot of time, effort, and money to develop should be protected from freeloaders.

    >> Nobody loses money if I decide to not pay for a film, as that money was

    >> never theirs to begin with. Whether I decided not to pay by not buying

    >> the DVD or by downloading the DVD is irrelevant.

    The argument is this: if someone makes a film that's rubbish and nobody wants to see, then it's fine and OK that they make no money. But if someone makes a film that's very popular and seen by millions, only nobody bothers to pay the creator, then they are entitled to feel annoyed.

    And if only half the people pay, then the half who paid are entitled to wonder if the price would have been lower if the other half of the people had paid as well.

    Now, if you choose not to pay for the film *and* not watch it, then that's fine.

  18. Hugh McIntyre

    Re: Gray Aspects #2

    Another comment though - this education-by-Microsoft scheme seems highly unlikely to succeed, to say nothing of the dubiousness of companies in the classroom.

    Instead I suspect the only thing that might reduce the "sharing" would be getting enough real starving musicians and/or film stars to stand up in front of the classes and/or campaign to say "start paying for our stuff". Similarly, perhaps, for small and pennyless software companies. Even this is not guaranteed, especially if sufficient such people don't want to campaign.

    Note that I said "small" - Microsoft, Oracle, or large music companies are not going to have the same effect here at all.

  19. Leo Maxwell
    Jobs Horns

    So illegal software is on a par with Microsoft software then

    Read the Microsoft EULA.

  20. Michael Friesen
    Paris Hilton

    @Dunstan, @system

    A recording of a song or a movie is not the 'property', per se. What you pay for (or steal) is the artist's (studio's) license to enjoy that movie (or not, in the case of some of Ms. Hilton's efforts).

    My stance is based on being a sometimes creator of content, sometimes teacher, sometimes consumer of content. No matter which way I aim at this issue, I wind up kicking my own backside.

    That said, the ethics of copyright violation are indefensible: the artist creates a work with a license, which is effectively a covenant attached to that work. When you 'share' that work, you are breaking the covenant. If you don't like the covenant, don't watch or listen; support only those artists who give away their recordings (and there are some).

    But please don't try to justify wanton bootlegging by any principled means. Downloading a movie means that you've snuck into the theatre; sharing the music means that you're giving away something that isn't yours to give.

    Of course there are grey areas, and I applaud the curriculum even as I shudder at the source. But I shudder far more at the morally feeble attempts to justify taking something that isn't yours. It's nothing more than a convenient, weak-willed attempt to abdicate personal responsibility by denying specific harm -- and it's the same logic that applies to dropping your garbage in the street.

    Paris, 'cause she understands these things.

  21. Shabble

    The kids are alright

    There is this idea going round in the world of politicians and business leaders that the reason people make bad choices is because they are ignorant. Education is thus the solution to all the world's problems (ie all humans are 'rational' decision makers and so only need to be presented with the right reasons for behaving correctly. This is a misunderstanding of what economists mean by 'rational' in this context. Businessmen and Politicians usually have little understanding of economic theory, and generally do not take classes in human psychology).

    However, the evidence suggests that these school 'education' programmes don't have a significant effect in moderating the behaviour of either the children or the adults the children become. Drugs education doesn't stop us taking drugs, anti-smoking education doesn't stop us smoking and sex education doesn't stop us having sex. The likelyhood is that teaching kids about copyright will have little to no effect.

    The thing is that when it comes to our beliefs, most of us grow up to be politically (and religiously) in line with our parents. Those of us with law-abiding conservative parents probably won't download illegally as adults anyway, whilst those of us with law-bending parents won't care what some Microsoft sponsored textbook says. The third group - the people who grow up truly questioning their upbringing - certainly aren't going to believe something is ethically wrong just because some school teacher says it's illegal.

    Big Brother doesn't work by programming us; it woks by manipulating our instincts and emotions. What really would be scary is Microsoft setting up school copyright infringement hotlines where the 'Hitler Youth' type kids can inform on their classmates.

  22. Ian Rowe
    Thumb Down

    Yuck, copyright

    Copyright is a solution to a non problem. The idea of intellectual property is a construct that is rapidly losing its weight. Should laws ever be used to make money? What is so wrong with a world without copyright? A world where people do work because it needs doing instead of because they think they can sell it over and over again. Idealistic crap? To everyone who isn't me, maybe.

    If copyright went away, what would happen to the music industry? I would hope it would die. Music will not die however, it will endure as it endured for thousands of years before copyright and I would bet that people who really care about music would be treated to a better class of musician for the lack of industry.

    I say bring on the revolution.

  23. Dab Narklon


    > sex education doesn't stop us having sex.

    The purpose of sex education is not to prevent teens from having sex, at least in Canada. The purpose of sex education is to educate about the nature of the sex, possible consequences, options, and techniques.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It's Pavarotti, and he's dead. Very unfortunate comparison there, you cultural barbarians ;)

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