Monday, August 11, 2008

Software Licensing and its types or methods

© Moreniche


Software licensing comprises the permissions, rights and restrictions imposed on software (whether a component or a free-standing program). Use of software without a license could constitute infringement of the owner's intellectual property rights, and allow the owner to sue the infringer.

Under a software license, the licensee is permitted to use the licensed software in compliance with the specific terms of the license. If there is a breach of the license, depending on the license it may result in termination of the license, and potentially the right of the owner to sue.

Personal Use

This usually means that you may use the software only for "personal" matters unconnected with your work or profession. It could be quite difficult for the University to argue that software on a University owned PC was for "personal use". Some shareware products offer this kind of personal use discretion but if you install such software at work you will probably be required to obtain a full license.

Educational Use

This is probably the most difficult one to define as it can mean different things with different software - it may be completely open in that, the software can be used for any purpose by anyone in the relevant educational establishment whether it be commercial or teaching purposes or it may mean that the software can only be used in a teaching and learning context or it may mean that it can only be used for educational research.

Normal Use

This usually means a full licensed copy, which we may or may not have bought with an educational discount, but which has no unusual restrictions on how we use it. Remember unless extras licenses have been bought it may usually only be installed on one machine - so if you need the same software at home a second copy will usually have to be purchased.

Licensing Methods or Types


You would think that this must be OK - but it often is not. Frequently the words "not for commercial use" or something similar appear in the small print - you always need to verify that whatever you plan to use it for fits the license terms. An important point to remember is that freeware is almost always unsupported and so if something goes wrong you are "on your own". Always view the word FREE with suspicion!


Usually this means that the product is made available for evaluation, either from a CD or a download from the internet. Shareware comes with a license usually for the specific purpose of testing the product to see if you want to buy it. Some shareware is restricted by the software itself to a certain number of days or uses and in some cases functionality is restricted to discourage illegal use. Other more lax companies simply rely on a "nag" screen which appears on start up, or just on the honesty of the individual. There is rarely a situation where you can legally make use of shareware indefinitely and, like freeware it, is usually unsupported. IMPORTANT it can be difficult to prove that you are no longer using software which is still installed on your computer - it is strongly recommended that you remove any shareware after the evaluation period. The classic example here is WINZIP - the download of this evaluation software is widely encouraged from websites. The University do NOT have a site license for WinZip and it should not be installed on any UWS machine without purchase of a license



Generally these are less of a problem as they usually have highly restricted functionality - allowing you to look at the product but not really use it. Again though check the license screen carefully - some "demos" are really "shareware".

Full Package

OK - you pop along to PC World, shell out for the shrink wrapped box - great you "own" the product now! - WRONG! what you "own" is a CD with something on it, some pieces of paper, if you are lucky a manual and a pretty useless box. What you can do with the "something" on the CD depends on - you've guessed it - the license. You will often find that the same product has several different prices according to the license terms so check carefully before you buy! Generally speaking most products have a license to install the software on one computer at a time and with some companies your license may not be valid for use until you have registered it with them. Some companies (though thankfully these are few) even restrict you from passing the license on to someone else when you have finished with it.

If you transfer software from one computer to another then you should remove it from the first one before installing it on another. Some companies allow you specifically to install a second copy so you can, for example use the product both at home and at work or on a laptop. However if, for example, you are using it at work and your partner is using it at home at the same time, this probably contravenes the strict letter of the license.

There is no easy route through this one - check the box, check the license and if necessary check the companies website or e-mail their sales department before you buy. It is particularly important to check that software is "fit for purpose" when ordering on behalf of the University. If you have any doubts please check with Software Manager.

License only

We frequently buy several (or even many) software licenses without media. These are licenses which allow you to install copies on a number of machines from one CD (like the one's you may borrow from IT Support). Such licenses do not usually entitle you to make copies of the software CD! Additional copies of the media CD can usually be ordered at a reasonable price.


Upgrade "paths" are often available and are designed to encourage you, or in company jargon "make it easier for you", to upgrade to the latest version of a product you already own. Frequently what you get when you buy an upgrade is a completely new software installation but to install an upgrade you must legally own the relevant software in the first place. Some software installations check this automatically, while some companies ask you to provide proves of owning the earlier version however many more simply take it on trust. You may pay £80 say for an upgrade to XYZ version 2 but if you didn't already own XYZ version 1 the installation will be illegal.
Generally installing an upgrade implies that you will no longer be using the original version -
remember you only have on license so passing the old disc to your children etc would be illegal.

Sometimes you can buy an upgrade for a package if you own a similar package produced by another company - this is called COMPETITIVE UPGRADE - and is designed to woo you away from your usual software. You see less of this around these days but often it provides a good way of getting a better product than the one that came with your PC when you bought it. Competitive upgrades are a less frequent option these days.

Open source

You sometimes see "open source" software (eg Linux) which generally means that you are allowed to open the source code and make changes to the way the package works and maybe incorporate it into your own software. "Open source" does not always equal FREE. You may have to purchase the right to use and/or adapt the software and there may be restrictions on what parts of a package are open source and which are not.

We are often asked why we don't make more use of "open source" software - for example alternatives to MS Office such as Sun's Open Office. The reason is that whilst there seems potentially to be a big saving in software costs this is often outweighed by the need for staff to develop and support the software. The credibility of the software in our marketplace and the fact that important functionality or access to other products may be lost is another factor.

That said, there is some serious interest in Open Source among UK universities and a joint effort through UCISA is underway to evaluate the potential that they offer - so this is an area which we keep under constant review

Single License/Boxed Product

Usually a single license for a single PC - you may buy multiple copies at a discount but they are still basically the same.

Concurrent License

This is really something for network distributed software. Some companies will for example allow us to buy 50 concurrent licenses and make them available to all network users but with a restriction in place so that no more than 50 people can use the software any one time - if 50 people are using the software then the 51st person is denied access until one of the previous 50 exit the software. We use this whenever practicable as it is a very cost effective way of sharing software. The responsibility for restricting the number of users lies with us. The disadvantage of this approach is that those people who do not have access to the Staff Applications Desktop Folder will not be able to use it and will still have to purchase local copies.

Site License

For widely used software (such as MS Office) this usually represents good value - for an annual payment usually calculated on staff or student numbers - everyone on campus is allowed to install and use the software. Such agreements normally allow you to upgrade free of charge during the life of the agreement and although the annual cost seems high it usually represents a substantial saving over other licensing methods. Not only in cash terms but also because there is no need to maintain records of who uses the software. Some of these agreements also allow for home use by staff and in some cases students as.

Note: Illegal use of software, whether deliberate or accidental, is a serious offence and could result in prosecution, fine and/or imprisonment of Senior Management, Head of Department and of Individuals - it could also result in disciplinary action. The overarching principle is that with any new software, or upgrade, you must check the licensing BEFORE installing it

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