A license is a legal agreement between you and your software publisher. The license spells out what you can and cannot do with the software. It might specify the number of computers on which the software may be installed or address resale rights. Software may include a validation feature as a check on proper use. There are several categories of software and licenses:
Shared source - Microsoft developed “shared source.” There is not one standard license for shared source, there are several. When using this software, read the accompanying restrictions on use.
Shareware is proprietary software that is distributed freely or at low cost as a way for users to test drive copyrighted software they are interested in purchasing. Shareware will usually come with a license and registration. Shareware often distinguishes between commercial and non-commercial use.
Freeware – Although free, this software is copyrighted. It may have proprietary code or it may be open source software. It could even be in the public domain. Look for possible restrictions on use.
Open Source (OS) software is copyrighted, but the copyright holder ascribes to the OS license principles. OS comes with a license that uses special criteria known as Open Source Definition (OSD) established by the Open Source Initiative. See OSD for the ten principles. This is non-proprietary software. It can be downloaded, modified and redistributed. Commonly known OS software examples include Apache and Mozilla.
Shrink Wrap Licenses- These licenses are found after the buyer tears off the shrink wrap and opens the box. While “shrink wrap” licenses have been found to be unenforceable in some cases, one cannot assume this is will always be true.
Click Wrap License- Also known as “click through,” this is similar to a Shrink Wrap license, but we find these all over the web or on CDs. The user is required to agree to terms before using the service.
Copyleft License - This liberal license retains copyright for the creator, but allows the user to modify and distribute the software with the understanding that “downstream” users will be equally generous. GNU (General Public License) is a copyleft type of license.
Public Domain software – this is software that has no copyright restricting its use, no license, it’s free for you to use any way you wish.
If computer software is wrapped inside so many types of licenses, what does the exemption in the law allow me to do? ( Copyright Law, Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 117 Limitations on exclusive rights: Computer Programs)
The purchaser of an original copy of a computer program may “make or authorize the making of another copy or adaptation of the computer program provided:
(1) that the new copy or adaptation is created as an essential step in using the program on one’s computer [an ephemeral copy] and that it is used in no other manner, or
(2) that such new copy or adaptation is for archival purposes only and that all archival copies are destroyed in the event that continued possession of the coputer program should cease to be rightful.”
The making of an archival copy permitted under this section of the law does not apply to software that is licensed unless the license allows it. (Simpson 89)
If a computer needs maintenance or repair, section 117 allows the owner or lessee of the computer to make a copy of a computer program in order to make the repair. This extra copy made in order to repair the computer must be destroyed immediately after the repair is made.
Original copies of software and copies made from originals may be “leased, sold or otherwise transferred…only as part of the lease, sale or other transfer of all rights in the program.” Adaptations “may be transferred only with the authorization of the copyright owner.” However, if your license speaks to the lease, sale or transfer of software, you must abide by those stated restrictions.
Can I make a backup copy of my purchased software program?
If the software is licensed, check to see what it permits. In most cases this is permitted. If the software has no license, you can keep the original purchased copy as the archival copy. The copy on your computer would be a second copy and is permissible.
I have some licensed software installed on my office desktop computer. Can I also install a copy on my laptop? I am the only one who uses it.
If it is on your office computer, it is likely covered by a university license. Check with IT. If you purchased the software, check your license. Often this is possible. Remember too, with any situation, you can always ask permission from the software publisher or copyright holder.
I bought some software for my privately owned laptop and it's not software provided by the university. Can I leave my purchased software on my computer when I sell my computer to someone else?
If the software is licensed, check to see what kinds of transfer of ownership it permits. (Although there is some question about the enforceability of the license, the risk-averse path is to abide by the license). Look for a clause allowing you to transfer the software to a third party. The license may tell you if you need to uninstall it first. The software may have to be transferred as a separate item. If your software falls into one of the more liberal licenses above that permits this or is public domain software, you may sell the software on the computer. If the software has no license, you may sell or transfer the copy of your computer software to the new owner of your computer, but all use rights go with it. You may no longer use that software. This also applies to a lease situation.
If I have adapted the software, may I transfer the software to someone else?
If the software is licensed, check to see what it permits. Modifications may not be allowed unless the software falls under one of the more liberal types of license mentioned above. If the software has no license and does not fall into a category allowing adaptation, then adaptations may be transferred only with the authorization of the copyright owner, not the physical owner.
My colleague gave me a copy of a commercial software program that he bought. Can I use it and load it on my computer?
If the software is licensed, check to see what it permits. If the software does not fall into one of the more liberal types of licenses above and is not in the public domain, your colleague may not load it on your computer unless your colleague transfers it to you and removes it from his or her computer.
My colleague and I are working on a joint research project. He has special software that I will also need to use for a few months. Since we are doing educational research, can we share this software even though our license says we cannot? Is this fair use?
If the license does not permit it, then no.
I am a faculty member and I have a GIS program that I would like to add to the computer lab in my department for student use and instruction. Can I do this?
If the software is licensed, check to see what it permits. Generally, you need to buy a multi-user license or get volume licensing in order to add this to all your lab computers.
How do I know if RU has a site license for certain software?
To see what software is licensed to RU check with the IT department.
If my software license contains a “Not for resale” clause, can I resell it? The copyright law makes it sound like I can.
If the license clearly states you cannot resell the software, then you must follow the license. If you agree to the terms of a license, then it overrides this section of the law.
I have software that is licensed. Can I copy it to my newer computer? I don’t plan to use my old computer any longer.
If the software is licensed, check to see what it permits. Look for a reassignment clause. Many licenses will let you reassign software to a different device.
I have lost the license for my software. What do I do?
Many licenses are posted on the Website of the software publisher. If not, contact the software publisher.
Can I lend my software to a friend?
The only lending or renting of software allowed is for nonprofit libraries under the Copyright Software Rental Amendments Act of 1990.
If there is no copyright symbol on the software, is it under copyright?
Assume it is. The symbol is not required any longer.
Is reverse engineering of software legal?
This is an unsettled, technical and tricky area of law. Certainly the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) prohibits overriding TPMs (technological protection measures) that prevent access to copyrighted work. As shown in the 2004 Lexmark case, however, Static Control Components successfully reverse engineered a chip to work with Lexmark printers, with no consequences. Lexmark failed in its claim that this action circumvented its TPMs. However, no two cases are alike. The situational details of the Lexmark case present an interesting outcome, but the technical details in other cases may yield the opposite result. To read more about this case involving software copyrights and what defines TPMs, see Arstechnica or full 32 page opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th District.
Are there any exemptions in the law regarding software?
Every three years the Copyright Office issues exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. These exemptions address computer programs, DVDs, ebooks, film and more. These are listed as “Exemptions to Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures that Control Access to Copyrighted Works.” View the 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009 exemptions. Read these to find out what is legal.