Network Administration: Software License Basics

You don’t really buy software, you buy the right to use the software. When you purchase a computer program at a store, all you really own after you complete the purchase is the box the software comes in, the disks/discs the software is recorded on, and a license that grants you the right to use the software according to the terms offered by the software vendor.

The software itself is still owned by the vendor. That means that you’re obligated to follow the terms of the license agreement that accompanies the software. Very few people actually read the complete text of a software agreement before they purchase and use software. If you do, you’ll find that a typical agreement contains restrictions, such as the following:

  • You’re allowed to install the software on one and only one computer. Some license agreements have specific exceptions to this, allowing you to install the software on a single computer at work and a single computer at home, or on a single desktop computer and a single notebook computer, provided that both computers are used by the same person. However, most software licenses stick to the one-computer rule.

  • The license agreement probably allows you to make a backup copy of the disks/discs. The number of backup copies you can make, though, is probably limited to one or two.

  • You aren’t allowed to reverse-engineer the software. In other words, you can’t use programming tools to dissect the software in an effort to learn the secrets of how it works.

  • Some software restricts the kinds of applications it can be used for. For example, you might purchase a student or home version of a program that prohibits commercial use. And some software — for example, Sun Microsystem’s Java — prohibits its use for military applications.

  • Some software has export restrictions that prevent you from taking it out of the country.

  • Nearly all software licenses limit the liability of the software vendor to replacing defective installation disks/discs. In other words, the software vendor isn’t responsible for any damage that might be caused by bugs in the software.

    In a few cases, these license restrictions have been set aside in court, and companies have been held liable for damage caused by defective software. For the most part, though, you use software at your own risk.