Legal Implication in the use of Software

Software enables us to accomplish many different tasks with computers. Unfortunately, some people make and use unauthorized copies of software. This tendency is widespread in countries that have not enacted any law relating to ethical and legal use of software. In this section we would look at the problem from various angles.

Respect for the intellectual work and property of others has been traditionally accepted because electronic information is valuable and easily reproduced, respect for the work and personal expression of others is important in computer environments.

1. Legal Restrictions on use of Software

Let us look at what are the implications of software copyright law as enacted in the United States. According to law, making a backup copy by a person who has legally purchased a software is allowed in many cases.

2. Software License Agreements

Most software comes with a clearly visible license agreement. Some licenses may restrict the use of software to a specific computer. Copyright law does not permit anyone to run the software on two or more computers simultaneously. How-ever, it may be legal to loan the software to another person temporarily.

A License restricts how and where the software may be legally used. This applies to software installed on hard disks in microcomputer clusters, software distributed by a campus lending library or software purchased by an educational institution. Licensing terms also cover use of software in a campus network. Some institutional licenses permit copying for certain purposes. It must also be understood that it is illegal for a teacher or student to copy software for distribution among the members of a class.

Copy-Protected Software

Copy-protected software means that copying or installation of the software is not allowed. Copy protected software will require the user to install it from original copy. Sometimes it may also requir the user to enter a key or a serial number at the time of installation. Some software will be distributed in such a way that only a few installations would he possible. Software available through institutional site licenses or bulk purchases is subject to copyright and license restrictions. Copyright and license restrictions also apply to the documentation such as manuals.

Legal Software Alternatives

Software can be very expensive. It may not be possible for everybody to purchase software and use it on all occasions. Strict licensing may sometimes discourage people from using a software. User must be allowed to examine software features before actual purchase. There are some legal alternatives to unauthorized copying and use of software. Two possible alternatives are "Shareware" and "Public Domain Software".

Shareware :- Shareware or "user-supported" software is copyrighted software that the developer encourages others to copy, use and distribute. This permission will be explicitly stated in the documentation.

Public Domain Software

It can be copied and shared freely. These software may not have any copyright notice. Be aware that sometimes such public domain software may contain viruses.

Problems related to unauthorized use of software:

➢ Unauthorized copyright and use of software can harm the entire society.

➢ Unauthorized use of software may bring legal liability.

➢ Developers will be deprived of a fair return for their intellectual work.

➢ Prices of software may get increased, level of further support may be decreased.

➢ The users will be solely responsible for any damage or loss of property arising from unauthorized use of software.

3. Software Piracy

Software is a valuable resource that runs everything from personal computers to the Internet Software piracy is widespread because it is very valuable and at the same time easy to copy. It is easy to create an exact copy of a computer program in seconds. People who pirate software may be individual computer users or "Piracy professionals" who deal wholesale in stolen software. Piracy exists in schools, business and government. Software pirates not only steal from the companies that make software. As the number of PCs and Internet use is growing, the incidents of piracy are also growing.

Software piracy may be defined as the unauthorized duplication, distribution, or use of computer software. Making more copies of software than the license allows or installing software licensed for one computer onto multiple computers or a server etc are different forms of piracy. Copying software is an act of copyright violation and is subject to civil and criminal penalties. It is illegal to use pirated software, give it to someone, or sell it.

Forms of Piracy

(i) End User Piracy- This occurs when a company employee reproduces copies of software without permission. Other instances of this kind of piracy are, using one licensed copy to install a program on multiple computers, copying disks for installation and distribution, taking advantage of upgrade offers without having a legal copy of the version to be upgraded, acquiring academic or other restricted or non-retail software, swapping disks in or out of the workplace etc.

(ii) Client - Server Overuse- This type of piracy occurs when too many employees on a network are using a central copy of a program at the same time. When sharing software in a Local Area Network, the number of users may exceed that allowed by the software license.

(iii) Internet Piracy - This occurs when software is downloaded from the Internet. Internet piracy can be of the following forms:-

➢Pirate websites that make software available for free download.

➢Internet auction sites that offer counterfeit software.

(iv) Hard - Disk Loading- Some computer sellers load illegal copies of software on to the hard disks to attract buyers. The same concern apply to value added reseller, They sell or install new software to computers.

(v) Software Counterfeiting

4. Free Software

The word "free" has two general meannings; it can refer either to freedom or to price. The "Free" in "Free Software" means freedom. It means that a user is free, to run the program, change the program and re-distribute the program with or without changes. The opposite of free software is called proprietary software. These are software that are copywrited by developers. Copyrighted software does not offer any kind of freedom to modify it. The free software philosophy has emerged as a reult of many problems associated with proprietary software. The user of proprietary software has to depend on the software vendor (developer) to fix problems and customizing it. The terms and conditions of license are very strict. The user may have to pay for each copy or installation. Brit free software does not have these disadvantages. Free software follows the concept of "Copyleft" as opposed to "Copy right".

The Freedom of Free Software

There are four kinds of freedom for the users:

Freedom 0 – It allows the freedom to run the program for any use.

Freedom 1 - The freedom to study how the software works and adapt it to user's needs, i.e, access to the source code.

Freedom 2 - The freedom to re-distribute copies.

Freedom 4 - The freedom to progress the program, and liberate the perfection to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

To decide whether a specific software license qualifies as a free software license, it is judged with the above criteria.

Selling Free Software

"Free Software" does not mean "non-commercial". It must be available for commercial use, commercial development and distribution. Free software is usually sold for some price. This is necessary for developers to raise funds. Free software is a community project. Every one who depends on it must also contribute to building the community. By funding development, users can advance the world of free software.

The Free Software Foundation

The Free Software Foundation (FSF), founded in 1985 in the USA is dedicated to promoting free software. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software, particularly the Linux operating system. The foundation is engaged in the development of new free software.