Tuesday, March 6, 2012

May I See Your License, Please

Companies and individuals get into trouble all the time with issues of pirated software. Often, it is not intentional but rather a clear lack of understanding that software is not a physical product but rather sold in the form of a license to use. If you can grasp this one single concept you can prevent legal problems and avoid putting your company at risk of audit, fines and, worse, public embarrassment.

If this seems simple to you and you fully understand the issue you can stop reading now. Check back tomorrow for a column which may be of more interest. But you would be shocked at how many people still believe that software is (and should be) free, or that they have purchased "the disk" which entitles them to load this software to as many machines as they want. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Pirated software is quite simply software that was acquired, installed and used without obtaining the proper license to use. Some software is "shareware" distributed free of charge. Often, though, the end user license agreement (EULA) stipulates to conditions under which the software may be used for free. Care must be exercised when dealing with these types of products.

Take the Malwarebytes anti-virus system, for instance. The basic product is free for "home" use but requires purchase of a license for use in a Corporate environment. There is nothing to prevent distribution and use throughout your organization. But should you be audited this would surface as a clear violation.

Some operating systems like Linux, Ubuntu and others are free. They can be loaded on any number of machines, receive updates and new releases. However, from some vendors a license is required for their specific version of Linux and you must purchase a support agreement if you want to be able to get bugs fixed, extensions or need assistance. That is their business model.

But most software will require you purchase a single license for each user. You may also be able to acquire a pool of licenses that may be shared or a corporate or enterprise license to blanket the whole company.

Finally, large scale applications may have license components making the governance issues even more complex. They may have specific "server" side pieces and associated end user counts. Still other are licensed by module.

The complexity of software licensing is often underestimated or not well understood. This can and often does lead to costly consequences, and could also put your job in jeopardy.

Captain Joe

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