Week Six

Software and Intellectual Property

Lines of software code have copyright attached to them. However, many of the assumptions we make about purchasing and the rights of ownership do not apply. It is more relevant to think of licensing. Normally when one pays for a product one has complete rights of how to use it (warranties aside).

Typical software packages have license agreements (EULA) that dictate what things the purchaser is allowed to do with them. For example a student package might not be allowed to be used for revenue gathering or more commonly, copies are not be made for distribution.

End User Licensing Agreements (EULA) give rights to users that do not exist before the agreement is made. The general rights that software agreements give to users are:

– able to install (copy) on to a computer (number of computers defined and conditions as to what a computer is defined as)

-run software of specific purposes only (e.g. student vs enterprise)

– make a back-up copy

To access these rights the user must activate software and have it validated.

The copyright holder of software code can be either developer, company or a mixtur of the two, often depending on the nature of the employment as stated in employment contract. e.g permanent vs contract. When developers retain copyright it is often the source code rather than the non-changeable machine code that they retain the rights to. Liability as to how the software damages people and property needs to be established too.

When it comes to allowing users full free rights of use and distribution there are two broad categories of copyright:  completely free rights and permissive rights. GPL, General Public Licence, an example of completely free rights,  covers a number of freeware and essentially states the the rights of free use must apply to everyone who has the software passed to them. Permissive rights allow software that was sourced freely to be altered and to become proprietary software and/or closed source.

Other examples of exemptions to standard copyright are freeware, shareware and public domain software that all have their own particular restrictions.

One example of software that I use regulary which is freeware is GIMP -. It essentially mimics the capabilities of proprietary software. Of course the question is- How does anyone make any money by writing opensource software like this. Some times it seems completely altruistic but other times it is obvious by the use of paid updates or extension to the software that there is some monetary gain.

One form of software that poses as freeware/shareware are those programs that appear to be free for download but once installed inform the user that the software will disable itself after a trial period.


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